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What are the Different Types of Employment Harassment?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Employment harassment, sometimes called workplace harassment, consists of actions and behaviors that frighten, embarrass, or harm a worker in contradiction of discrimination and workplace protection laws. There are many different behaviors that may be termed employment harassment, including physical or sexual threats, assault, discriminatory remarks or practices, and the tacit or encouraged approval of any of these tactics. Employment harassment is not only dangerous and denigrating, but is also against the law in many regions.

Physical employment harassment includes any threats of violence, or violent actions, meant to scare and embarrass an employee. These tactics may also be used to prevent a worker from reporting harassment or other illegal activities, or may be used to coerce a worker into following some action. Examples of this type of harassment may include verbal or written warnings of violence, threatening behaviors, such as refusing to let someone through a door, or physical actions, such as shoving, grabbing, or hitting a person. Physical harassment is incredibly dangerous, and can lead to both violence and a destabilized working environment for all employees.

Employment harassment of a sexual nature is similar to physical harassment, in that it can be used to embarrass, silence, or coerce employees. It includes any threat or gesture of sexual violence, such as inappropriate touching, sexual assault, or rape. In some cases, it can also include sexually explicit comments that offend some people, or the offer of incentives, such as a promotion, in return for sexual favors. Regardless of how casual and friendly the workplace is, engaging in discussions about sex or sexual behavior is at least a lack of professionalism, and at most, grounds for an employment harassment lawsuit at the most.

Discrimination-based employment harassment lawsuits are often over hiring and promotion practices or workplace policies that are seen as discriminatory. This category of employment harassment may include issues such as making denigrating comments about the race, religion, sexual orientation, or health status of an employee. Any behavior that seems motivated by discriminatory reasons, such as refusing to promote a black person or woman to a position of power, despite qualifications, may be termed employment harassment.

Critics often complain that the broad statutes of employment harassment violations create a censored atmosphere where people must walk on eggshells. In general, workplace safety experts recommend sticking to guidelines of professionalism, which rule out most or all of the behaviors that could cause an accusation of harassment. Making sexual or threatening comments, or talking about the advantages or disadvantages of a certain race, religion, or belief system, is usually not appropriate conversation for the workplace in the first place. For people that feel they are victims of harassment, it is important to report any incidents to a supervisor or manager as soon as possible, before the situation escalates. Should superiors within the workplace be unwilling to help, contact law enforcement and a lawyer about possible prosecution options.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By CraftyArrow — On Dec 07, 2014

I know this is something of a controversial topic, but I've often wondered what is needed to prove workplace harassment, and does it depend on what specific kind of harassment is taking place? For example, if a boss is touching someone inappropriately, how does the victim prove it if no one else sees it? Simply reporting it to her supervisor might help (or might not), but what if the person doing the harassing is her superior? And what about cases that are somewhat gray, such as speaking of religion but not necessarily in an overtly derogatory way?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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