Unfortunately, even the most experienced HR professionals can miss the numerous types and signs of workplace harassment. Also, several administrators across the globe often find it impossible to closely scrutinize their employees’ actions and track their professional behavior. For instance, one employee might find using foul words perfectly acceptable in daily communications with coworkers while another believes they are never okay and find it very annoying.
Hence, finding out whether harassment is illegal usually varies from one situation to another. In addition, according to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), workplace harassment refers to a hostile work environment.
However, what a hostile work environment constitutes is still not clear for many HR professionals to understand the opinions of every employee and identify every action that a reasonable individual would say crosses the line into harassment.
What Does Workplace Harassment Involve?
Because substantial evidence of workplace harassment might or might not exist, it is beneficial to have an in-and-out understanding of what is going on at a workplace to find out whether harassment is illegal.
Also, as per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), demeaning puns, racial accusations, violent behavior or warnings, sexual harassment, taunting or dismissiveness, curses intervention with work performance are all instances of inappropriate conduct, intolerable at the workplace. Hence, we can say that if any person suffers from such intolerable acts at the workplace, harassment is illegal.
Furthermore, workplace harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including the following:
- The perpetrator could be the victim’s supervisor, another department’s administrator, a colleague, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to get individually harassed as any individual affected by the offensive conduct could be deemed the victim.
- Harassment can occur without creating monetary loss to the victim or repudiation of the victim’s employment.
Illegal Workplace Harassment Types
Here are some common harassment types that remain illegal and punishable in the eyes of EEOC ( Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
1. Verbal Workplace Harassment
Verbal or spoken harassment can be a continuous struggle that endangers the well-being and career of the victims. Curses, obscene gestures, and unrelenting opinions are all part of this harassment type. In addition, this verbal harassment includes abuses, discriminatory slurs, undesirable puns, and hurtful expressions are all examples that make it illegal.
However, since verbal harassment is not physical, it can be challenging to determine what constitutes verbal harassment. However, if any harassment acts mentally harm the victim and lead to anxiety or depression stands illegal. Also, some of the verbal harassment acts that are illegal are:
- Forwarding emails or speaking vulgar jokes or offensive things about community or religion.
- Frequently demanding sexual favors or dates in person.
- Making disparaging remarks about someone’s inability or age.
- Mocking someone’s different language accent behind their back.
2. Physical Workplace Harassment
Physical harassment and prejudice can take various forms. Experts revealed that physical harassment at the workplace varies from trivial provocations like touching a person’s hair, clothing, appearance, or skin to more severe actions like physical damage, intimidation, and property damage. Given this far-reaching variety of levels of physical harassment, it can be a challenging task to ascertain.
However, if an employee gets pushed, blocked, or constantly forced, even if there is no physical harm, it is illegal harassment. Moreover, some of the illegal physical harassment acts are:
- Obscene hand movements or other gestures intended to communicate curse words.
- Undesired touching of an individual or their clothes.
- Repeatedly following or standing too near an individual on purpose.
- Making sexually intriguing facial expressions.
- Playing songs with offensive or degrading words.
3. Sexual Workplace Harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a severe offense that is far more prevalent than one might think. It is an illegal offense that never remains limited to only female employees. Hence we can say that sexual harassment can get perpetrated by any person irrespective of gender.
Undesired touch, transmitting lewd messages and videos, demanding intimate favors, and making remarks that involve obscene indications are all instances of illegal sexual harassment. Most of the time, these events go overlooked and uninvestigated, and as a consequence, offenders usually get away with their conduct.
Hence if any person at a workplace experiences such instances of sexual harassment, they can immediately report it to the officials.
4. Mental or Psychological Workplace Harassment
All kinds of workplace harassment point to an impact on one’s psychological well-being and in addition to bodily health. Mental harassment can lead to the victim feeling disgraced both as an individual and an employee. The examples where psychological harassment becomes illegal include:
- Rejecting strong ideas of an employee.
- Lowering their presence or work.
- Showing a bias to other employees in the workplace for an illogical choice.
- Formulating baseless allegations against the victim.
5. Cyberbullying or Online Harassment
Numerous businesses use different social media applications to help enhance the communication between employees in the workplace. In several companies, employees employ messaging apps and platforms to discuss private matters as long as there is permission from all people involved.
Nevertheless, there are odds that this consent can sometimes get exploited. It happens when a person or a group forwards defamatory content concerning another employee on these social media platforms. The adverse environment created by this offensive content will point to an unfriendly work environment.
Tips for Tackling Illegal Harassment at the Workplace
Since employers cannot watch over their employees every time, they must constantly conduct harassment prevention training that helps employees understand the acceptable behavior, how to handle harassment and what measures to take. Mentioned hereunder are some ways to tackle illegal harassment at the workplace.
- Get the top-level administrators to set an example.
If an administrator in a workplace curses their employees, they might feel that it is normal to abuse. So the initial thing to do is warrant that your top-level administrators and supervisors set a good example.
- Describe unacceptable practices in official policies
Because your employee might possess varying perspectives about what makes for an unfriendly workplace environment, it is crucial that you explicitly specify in your code of conduct or worker handbook what unacceptable conduct is.
- Execute workplace harassment prevention training
Another alternative to assist employees in knowing their role in limiting the various types of workplace harassment is to make them attend harassment prevention training. These harassment prevention training can strengthen a company’s guidelines for acceptable workplace behavior.
- Managing employee harassment in the workplace
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests that victims initially strive to resolve the circumstances by communicating with the offending person directly. They should express their opinions and offensive speech or action and ask that it get stopped.
The Bottom Line
After looking at the points above, we can say that the question of whether harassment is illegal entirely depends on the extent of the offensive act. Moreover, harassment at the workplace is a pressing concern that almost every company worldwide encounters at some point.
Also, various harassment types can readily decrease employees’ morale in a workplace. Therefore, managers and administrators must create a positive workplace culture to reduce employee discontent while boosting productivity.