Unlawful Harassment: 2 Types Of Harassment And How To Deal With Them

Unlawful Harassment: 2 Types Of Harassment And How To Deal With Them

The Facts

get inclusive products
Role IN Evaluation
previous vendor
Why they left


Unlawful harassment is defined as unpleasant behaviour directed at a person based on a protected feature under anti-discrimination legislation which negatively impacts the victim's working conditions or terms of employment. 

The legal definition for unlawful harassment does not include all forms of unpleasant behaviour. However, this does not necessarily imply that it is permissible at work. Several workplaces have anti-harassment policies in place that encompass rude behaviour, regardless of whether it is forbidden by law.

Name-calling or epithets, offensive jokes, slurs, threats or physical attacks, displeasing photos or objects, or interference with workers' ability to execute their tasks are examples of offensive behaviour or unlawful harassment. If employees are obliged to put up with such behaviour to keep their jobs, it may be called harassment. Though annoyances, small slights, and isolated incidences can be upsetting, they rarely qualify as illegal harassment.

Harassment occurs when someone is harmed as a result of a power imbalance. Quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment are the two types of unlawful harassment.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase that means "this for that." One of the major types of unlawful harassment, common in workplaces. It refers to circumstances in which a manager or supervisor requires an employee to consent to sexual advances as a prerequisite of employment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when bosses use their power to force subordinates to approve sexual approaches.

The guarantee of some form of employment reward if the supervisor or manager's approaches are accepted, or a severe, employment-related consequence if the advances are rejected, is a fundamental part of quid pro quo harassment which constitutes unlawful harassment.

When it comes to preserving the workplace free of unlawful harassment, a manager has significant obligations. Managers should be aware of their employees' actions so that they can see the activities that could be considered harassment or lead to harassment. They should also confront unacceptable behaviour, such as workplace incivility before it turns into something more serious.

Hostile Environment

It creates a condition that unreasonably interferes with the victim's work performance for the behaviour to be regarded as unlawful harassment. The behaviour must be unwanted, as well as harsh or widespread in the eyes of a "reasonable person." The consequence is a "hostile environment" if these traits are present.

The "reasonable person" test is used to assess a harasser's behaviour since people bring various experiences and opinions to the workplace. The goal is to assess the case objectively, putting aside any personal sensitivities or standards that the victim may have.

When a person who is the subject of inappropriate behaviour expresses their displeasure with the behaviour, and the offender persists in doing so despite the targeted person's concerns, the behaviour is deemed pervasive.

Unless the occurrence is really serious - something that a reasonable person would consider "outrageous" – a single unpleasant incident is unlikely to be viewed as generating a hostile environment.

Any actions can be made unpleasant by rude or obnoxious co-workers. Their actions are never acceptable. However, it is not illegal unless it is directed towards a protected characteristic and is severe or widespread.

Legal Requirements for Harassment Classification

Specific legal requirements must be fulfilled to be classified as unlawful harassment, which makes a hostile environment:

  • A protected classification, such as age, religion, handicap, or race, must be discriminated against in the activities or conduct.
  • The behaviour or communication must be persistent, long-lasting, and not restricted to a few off-colour remarks that irritate a co-worker. These instances should be reported to Human Resources so that appropriate action can be taken.
  • If an issue is all around a worker and persists over time, and the problem is not investigated and addressed effectively enough by the organisation to cease the behaviour, it becomes serious and pervasive.
  • There must be serious hostile behaviour, actions, or communication. It is not just ubiquitous over time, but it must also substantially interrupt the employee's work or ability to work. The second severity level arises when a hostile work environment hampers an employee's career advancement. As a result of the aggressive behaviour, the employee did not earn a promotion or a work rotation.
  • It's reasonable to presume that the employer was aware of the activities or behaviour but did not intervene appropriately. As a result, the employer could be held accountable for creating a hostile work environment.

How to Handle a Hostile Work Environment

Maybe the major problem at your workplace for unlawful harassment is simply an obnoxious co-worker who makes your life a living nightmare or the office's general infectious negativity.

Though most organisations have policies and procedures in place for reporting and escalating actual workplace unlawful harassment, they rarely provide you with a guidebook for dealing with unpleasant people or negative vibes. Following are a few pointers on how to get through a bad working environment.

  • Give yourself a break

While sitting in your office for 8+ hours a day feels like a prison term, do yourself (and your mental health) a favour and set aside some time each day for yourself. Going for a brief walk, listening to music, meditating, or drinking a cup of tea will help you dissipate negative energy and maintain your sanity.

  • Negative co-workers should be avoided

If you can avoid it, dodge the presence of someone who irritates you with their constant negativity at work.

This could involve eating lunch at a different time or in a different location or requesting that your desk be relocated. Less face time with the office annoyance, less unlawful harassment, means less stressful interactions for you to cope with.

  • Make allies

If you work in a toxic atmosphere, chances are you aren't alone. It can be beneficial to discuss problems about these unlawful harassments with a trusted co-worker who shares your values.

But, keep in mind that you should concentrate on finding answers to your common problems rather than simply complaining about work, which you should avoid doing with co-workers because it can lead to gossip and more negativity. Therefore, it is critical to establish allies outside of the workplace. Having a conversation with an old friend, a seasoned career mentor, or even your family can relieve a lot of pressure.

  • Raise the issue to higher authorities

Find out how to escalate an issue that is preventing you from doing your work successfully. If your firm does not have a procedure for reporting complaints, speak with your employer personally. Always maintain a positive attitude, state only the facts, and give any supporting documents.


Everyone deserves a friendly and inclusive work environment that promotes collaboration, individuality, and organisational success in today's varied workplaces. Harassment focused on gender identity, country origin, or any other personal attributes harms both the individual and the firm as a whole. Discrimination based on race or gender must be addressed through appropriate training and corrective measures.

To eradicate unlawful harassment, the most effective measure is prevention. Employees that are comfortable at work have a healthy work environment. A healthy work environment involves employees recognising when harassment has happened and having faith in their employer's capacity to respond appropriately. Employers may build a safer, more inclusive workplace by ensuring that their employees have access to anti-harassment training programs.

Contact us
Request a Demo