Workplace harassment is never okay. Unfortunately, certain dynamics in the office can make it more likely to occur and make victims feel helpless to speak out against it. Workplace harassment is not just a big or small business issue. It exists throughout all types of workplaces in the U.S and across the world. From workplace bullying to outright discrimination, it’s important to understand workplace harassment so you can avoid hostile work environments in your small business. That may mean holding yearly training sessions with employees to define things like racial harassment and workplace bullying. By creating a workplace harassment policy, you can take the necessary steps to create a safe working environment for all your employees.
Types of Workplace Harassment
The first step is knowing what types of workplace harassment there are. Here are seven common types, plus resources for understanding how they might intersect.
1) “Sexual” or gender-based harassment occurs when someone makes unwelcome sexual advances towards you or makes comments about your sex life or body parts that don’t have anything to do with work responsibilities
2) Racial harassment involves mistreatment based on race
3) Stalking happens when a person follows you around the office or engages in unwanted contact
4) Unwanted physical contact ranges from touching without permission to violent assault
5) Religious harassment happens when someone targets your religious beliefs through name-calling or verbal abuse
6) Psychological harassment is repeated, uninvited comments, rumors or insults meant to humiliate you and make you feel uncomfortable in the workplace. This type of harassment can look like something as simple as excluding you from work conversations to spreading false rumors about you
7) Physical assault refers to any touching without permission. It ranges from anything like pulling hair (without consent) to stabbing, choking or shooting someone without their permission. No one should go into work anticipating that they will be physically attacked!
Workplace Harassment – How to Prevent
We know that workplace harassment can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of age, race, gender or sexual orientation. And when it’s happening to you, it can be scary and confusing! The first thing you should do when you’re experiencing harassment in the office is talk to someone about what’s going on. This includes talking to a manager or coworker who you trust. We’ll go over how to file an official complaint in a section below called “What Are Your Rights & What Should You Do?”
If there isn’t a trusted person around when you experience harassment, make a record of what happened right away. Write down the date and time that the harassment occurred, what happened and who was around to witness it. If the person harassing you is a coworker or someone else at your workplace, keep a diary of any ongoing incidents so that if necessary, you can demonstrate a pattern of behavior rather than just isolated incidents.
The bottom line: When you experience workplace harassment, keeping track of what’s happening is important.
What is workplace bullying?
Sticking with the theme of how these types of harassment can overlap, workplace bullying shares some similarities with workplace harassment. However, there are three important differences between them:
1) Workplace bullying often involves a power dynamic where one individual has more control over another (e.g. a manager pushing extra work onto an employee and pressuring them to meet deadlines). Workplace harassment can also occur between co-workers but doesn’t necessarily involve a power dynamic like the example above.
2) Workplace bullying is about power, control and domination. Workplace harassment may be undertaken for those reasons too but it can also occur because of personal conflict or disputes between two individuals (e.g. two co-workers who don’t like each other).
3) Workplace bullying is often targeted at an individual (like singling out one employee by name to embarrass them in front of their co-workers). Workplace harassment can include behaviors like the ones listed below that target more than one person, though it’s still possible for certain types of workplace harassment to affect just one worker.
The bottom line: Workplace bullying shares some similarities with workplace harassment, but there are important differences between the two.
Who might be targeted by workplace harassment?
Workplace harassment knows no boundaries, though there are some groups who may be more likely to experience certain types of harassment than others:
- LGBT individuals (especially transgender individuals)
- People living with disabilities or chronic health conditions
- Racial minorities; people from marginalized ethnicities and cultures (i.e. Latinos, Asians, South Asians)
- Indigenous peoples
- People with different religious beliefs (especially Muslim workers, whose head coverings may make them a target for violence or other abuse)
- People who are gender nonconforming – e.g. masculine women, effeminate men
People of color, LGBT individuals and disabled people can all be targets of more than one type of harassment. The National Council on Disability found that while racial minorities were the most likely to report being harassed overall in 2000 that was because they were also the group most often targeted for racial harassment. When you look at only the group targeted for multiple types of harassment (gender & race), women are more likely to be targeted. For sexual harassment, it’s men who are most likely to be targeted.
But remember: Regardless of your background or that of the person harassing you, everyone deserves to feel comfortable and safe in their workplace!