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10 Types of Workplace Harassment & How to Make them Stop

#1 ) Personal Harassment

Personal harassment is a form of workplace harassment that’s not based on one of the protected classes (such as race, gender or religion).

Simply, it’s bullying in its most basic form and it’s not illegal but can be damaging nevertheless.

#2) Discriminatory Harassment

All unlawful workplace harassment is discriminatory in nature. But, unlike verbal or physical harassment, discriminatory harassment is defined by its intentions instead of how it’s carried out.

How are your employees reporting harassment right now? If you don’t have an employee complaint form yet, you need one. Use ours: Employee Complaint Form.

In this case, the bully is harassing the victim because, at least in part, they’re a member of a protected class.

The more common and recognizable forms of discriminatory harassment are listed below.

Racial Harassment

Gender Harassment

Religious Harassment

Disability-Based Harassment

Sexual Orientation-Based Harassment

Age-Based Harassment

#3 - Physical Harassment

Physical harassment, also often called workplace violence, refers to a type of workplace harassment that involves physical attacks or threats. In extreme cases, physical harassment may be classified as assault.

Physical gestures such as playful shoving can blur the line between appropriate or not since it’s the person on the receiving end who decides whether the behavior makes them uncomfortable.

In order to more clearly define that line, physical harassment should be taken very seriously in the workplace and explained thoroughly in codes of conduct and policies.

#4. Power Harassment

Power harassment is a common form of workplace harassment that’s characterized by a power disparity between the harasser and the harassed.

The harasser exercises their power by bullying a victim who is lower on the office hierarchy.

In many cases, the harasser is a supervisor or manager who victimizes their subordinates.

#5 - Cyberbullying

Employers are embracing new technology in order to appeal to younger employees and reap the benefits of a digitally connected world.

For example, instant messaging applications such as Slack and Workplace by Facebook offer convenience, speed and user-friendly interface.

However, there can be a downside to this digital world.

#6 - Psychological Harassment

Psychological harassment has a negative impact on a person’s psychological well-being.

Victims of psychological harassment often feel put down and belittled on a personal level, a professional level or both.

The damage to a victim’s psychological well-being often creates a domino effect, impacting their physical health, social life and work life.

#7 - Retaliation

Retaliation harassment is a subtle form of retaliation and an often-overlooked type of workplace harassment.

Retaliation harassment occurs when a person harasses someone else to get revenge and to prevent the victim from behaving in such a way again.

What Does Retaliation Harassment Look Like?

This type of harassment typically has three parts:

  1. Employee A files a complaint about Employee B.
  2. Employee B finds out about the complaint and who made it.
  3. Employee B harasses Employee A to get revenge and deter them from filing further complaints.

Employee B, in this case, would be harassing Employee A as retaliation.

#8 - Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply, harassment that is sexual in nature and generally includes unwanted sexual advances, conduct or behavior.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of unlawful discrimination and is taken seriously by the courts.

Download this sexual harassment policy template if you need a document that holds employees accountable and prevents sexual harassment in your office.

Other types of harassment might take some time and increasing severity to create a hostile work environment for the victim, whereas sexual harassment typically brings about discomfort and negatively impacts the victims’ life immediately.

Examples of Sexual Harassment:
  • Sharing sexual photos (pornography)
  • Posting sexual posters
  • Sexual comments, jokes, questions
  • Inappropriate sexual touching
  • Inappropriate sexual gestures
  • Invading personal space in a sexual way
How Big is the Sexual Harassment Problem?

For many years, there have been whispers that sexual harassment runs rampant in the restaurant industry.

More recently, there’s been a steady flow of sexual harassment stories coming from Hollywood spawning a #MeToo campaign that highlights the prevalence of this behavior.

In the video below, listen as Virginia MacSuibhne explains how recent stories of sexual harassment actually aren’t about sex at all, but about power.

#9 - Third Party Harassment

Third-party harassment is a type of workplace harassment that’s perpetrated by a “third party” – someone from outside of the organization.

Instead of the perpetrator being a boss, supervisor or colleague, he or she is a vendor, supplier, customer or client of the company.

Who is the Victim of Third Party Harassment?

Victims are often young adults in “low-status” or “low-power” jobs (think: cashier or sales associate). Their position in the company, their lack of experience and their reluctance to cause a scene make them ideal victims.

Employer Liability for Third Party Harassers

Because third party harassment doesn’t fit the typical narrative, it remains under-recognized and is often swept under the rug. Regardless of who the harasser is, an employer’s responsibility to take steps to stop the behavior is the same.

#10 - Verbal Harassment

Verbal harassment can be the result of personality conflicts in the workplace that have escalated beyond the casual eye roll or something more serious.

Unlike discriminatory types of harassment (such as sexual), verbal abuse is often not illegal. Instead, verbal harassment can be someone who’s consistently mean or unpleasant.

For this reason, a lot of verbal harassment can be particularly damaging since it goes unnoticed and unresolved.

Examples of Verbal Harassment

Obvious verbal harassment behaviors include things like threatening, yelling, insulting or cursing at a victim in public or in private.

If this is aimed at someone in a protected class, it is unlawful.


Expert Tips to Stop Harassment

So, now we know what types of harassment plague the office, the next step is to stop it.

Here are three ways.

1. Implement, Update, Revive Your Policy

Whatever verb is applicable to your policy situation, do it.

If you don’t have a policy yet – create one (and here’s one: Code of Conduct template).

If you do but it’s out of date and hasn’t been updated since the last century – update it (and here’s how: 18 of the Best Code of Conduct Examples).

If you do but no one cares or knows it exists – dust it off and enforce it.

If there’s a policy, and it’s accurate and enforced, staff will have no reason not to abide by it. But as long as there’s no guiding light for conduct and misconduct, you’re asking for chaos.

2. Train Your Staff

Train your employees on what harassment is, how to recognize it and how to report it.

3. Implement, Update, Revive Your Internal Complaint System

Policy and training can only do so much.

To supplement policy, and to step in when it’s not enough, an internal complaint system (like i-Sight’s Ethics Hotline) can make employees feel safe and supported.

Unless you have a formal complaint system that acknowledges the victim’s rights to anonymity and security from retaliation, they probably won’t come forward.

Victims will fear the potential backlash, and the lack of support might be worse than the harassment they already face.

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