Workplace harassment can take multiple forms. It is important to understand the different types of workplace harassment and things that you can do to stop them from happening. Harassment in the workplace can create a hostile environment, lead to poor employee morale, and result in high turnover rates. Employers that allow harassment to flourish could also be exposed to legal liability. Here are eight common types of harassment that happen in workplaces and some information about how to stop them from the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler.
1. Discriminatory Harassment
Harassing a worker based on his or her protected characteristics is an illegal form of employment discrimination. This type of harassment is based on the intentions of the harasser. Some of the most common types of discriminatory harassment include the following:
- Racial harassment – Harassment of an employee based on his or her race or perceived race
- Gender harassment – Harassing a person because of his or her gender
- Religious harassment – Harassment of employees based on their religious beliefs, practices, or lack of beliefs
- Disability harassment – Harassment of a worker based on his or her disability, perceived disability, or relationship with someone with a disability
- Sexual orientation harassment – Harassing an employee based on his or her sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation
- Age harassment – Harassment of older workers because of their age
Discriminatory harassment is illegal and can take multiple forms, including slurs, insults, demeaning treatment, harassing texts or emails, and others. When harassment is pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment, an employer may be liable to pay damages through a harassment claim.
Bullying is a common problem in many workplaces. While it might not be illegal, it can still lead to low morale, lost productivity, and increased turnover rates. Bullying or personal harassment is not based on an employee’s protected characteristics, but it is very damaging to both the victim and others in the workplace. Bullying can include the following types of problematic behavior:
- Inappropriate comments
- Constant criticism
- Offensive jokes
- Yelling or cursing
3. Workplace Violence/Physical Harassment
Workplace violence is a type of harassment in the workplace that involves making threats or physically attacking someone else. This type of conduct in the workplace might be criminal and result in charges. Unwelcome physical contact should never be tolerated. Even playful shoving should be prohibited since what matters is whether the person who is contacted is bothered by it. Physical harassment might include the following types of actions:
- Threats of violence
- Hitting, kicking, or shoving
- Threatening behavior/physical intimidation
- Destruction of property/throwing things
4. Online Harassment
Over the past year-and-one-half, many companies have chosen to go to remote work because of pandemic-related concerns. As an increasing number of employees now largely work online from home, the lines between work and home have blurred. Some people are more likely to harass co-workers online than they might if they were working in an office. Online harassment can happen during work hours as well as outside of them and might include things like sharing personal details about a coworker in a mass chat, spreading lies about a victim in an office chat, sending repeated and unwelcome messages of a sexual nature to a coworker, and others. Employers that receive reports of online harassment should take immediate action to stop the conduct and discipline the employees who are engaging in this type of conduct.
5. Retaliatory Harassment
Retaliatory harassment can be subtle and might be overlooked. This type of harassment occurs when someone harasses a coworker or employee to get revenge on him or her for doing something. When a supervisor engages in retaliatory harassment against an employee for engaging in protected activities, it is illegal. Retaliatory harassment might occur when an employee has filed a discrimination complaint, has taken leave under the FMLA, or has participated in an OSHA investigation, for example. If the supervisor subsequently engages in a pattern of harassment based on the employee’s actions, it might be illegal.
6. Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is a prohibited type of sex discrimination. Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. This type of harassment can include unwelcome sexual conduct, advances, or behavior. Sexual harassment can occur in one of two ways, including hostile work environment sexual harassment and quid pro quo sexual harassment. Some examples of behavior that can create a hostile work environment include the following:
- Showing sexual pictures or pornography
- Displaying sexual posters
- Sending explicit text messages
- Making sexual comments or asking sexual questions
- Telling sexual jokes
- Unwanted touching
- Inappropriate gestures
When sexual harassment is pervasive enough to create a hostile working environment, the employer might be liable. While a single incident might not be enough to support a sexual harassment claim, it might be when it is severe.
7. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor offers benefits to an employee that are contingent on the employee’s agreeing to engage in sexual conduct. It can also occur when a supervisor threatens an adverse job action unless an employee agrees to engage in sexual conduct. Even if the employee agrees to participate in the sex act in exchange for the job benefit or to prevent a negative job action, quid pro quo sexual harassment is still illegal.
8. Third-Party Harassment
Third-party harassment occurs when a client, customer, contractor, or another person from outside of the business harasses an employee of the company. In many cases, victims of this type of harassment are in lower-level positions and are inexperienced, making them more vulnerable. If an employer fails to stop harassment by third parties, it can be liable. For example, if a major client is allowed to sexually harass a receptionist whenever the client comes to a company’s office, the company should take immediate steps to end the harassment.
Stopping Harassment in the Workplace
Employees who are harassed in the workplace should take immediate steps to stop the behavior. They might start by telling the harasser that his or her conduct is unwelcome. In some cases, this will be enough to get a coworker to stop conducting himself or herself poorly at work. In others, however, the employee will have to file an internal harassment complaint with human resources.
If a company receives a report of harassment in the workplace, it should immediately investigate what happened. Employers should have strong policies and procedures in place for how harassment of any form should be handled. When they find that harassment has occurred, they should discipline the responsible parties. They should not fail to take steps to stop harassment or retaliate against an employee for reporting.
Employers should also make sure that their employees are fully trained about the company’s harassment policy and the procedures involved in reporting it. Employees should know the types of behavior that are prohibited and the discipline they might face if they engage in harassment.
If an employer fails to take appropriate steps after receiving a complaint of discriminatory harassment or sexual harassment, an employee might then file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Talk to a Harassment and Discrimination Lawyer at Swartz Swidler
Some types of workplace harassment are illegal while others are not. However, any type of harassment in the workplace can damage morale and lead to lost profits. People who believe that they have suffered illegal harassment at their jobs should talk to the attorneys at Swartz Swidler to learn about their options. Call us today at (856) 685-7420 for a free consultation.