Employee harassment is unwelcome behavior in the workplace that is targeted toward an individual employee or group of employees. It occurs when the employer is the perpetrator of the unwanted behavior or allows or condones the behavior. In order to be considered harassment, the behavior must be so egregious that no reasonable employee could be expected to tolerate it.
Employee harassment alone, however, is not always illegal. If the harassment is based on the target being part of a protected class, it becomes employment discrimination. In most countries, including the United States, Britain, and Australia, this type of discrimination is illegal.
In order to be classified as harassment, the behavior must create a work environment that is hostile for the target of the harassment or potentially hostile for other employees who see the harassment take place. Another test as to whether it is truly employee harassment is in what the targeted and other employees feel is their recourse. In order for the behavior to be employee harassment, the victim or other workers must feel as if they have to tolerate the behavior in order to keep their jobs.
Employee harassment can take different forms. Language, including jokes and name calling, can constitute harassment. Employees may be intimidated, or the harasser may interfere with their ability to work. In some instances, the harassment could even rise to the level of physical threats or assaults.
Sexual harassment is another type of employee harassment. Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances or sexual behavior in the workplace. The victim may feel as if tolerating the behavior in necessary in order to remain employed.
Forms of sexual harassment may be similar to those of other types of employee harassment. It may also include sexually charged innuendo or jokes. The perpetrator may show the victim suggestive photos or attempt to make physical contact. Sexual harassment can even include an employee's superior asking for a date.
Sexual harassment rises to the level of discrimination in many instances because gender is often a protected class. Protected classes are recognized in many countries’ employment laws. Most commonly recognized as protected classes are those belonging to certain races, religions, and ethnicities.
Along with gender, age and disability are also often commonly protected classes in employment law. Those with homosexual sexual orientation receive protected status under some laws. Protections may make it illegal to discriminate against people because they have an illness, such as alcoholism or AIDS, because disability is a protected class.