Workplace Harassment: Common Types And Laws To Manage It

Workplace harassment is all too common. Because victims are often unsure of what qualifies as a harasser and what to do when harassed, this often goes unreported and continues to be an issue. Workplace harassment can ruin the working environment into a toxic and unproductive workplace.

Definition of Workplace Harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as verbal or physical behavior that affects race, color, religion, gender (including pregnancy), gender/gender identity, nationality, age (40 or older), physical or mental disability. 

Harassing conduct may include offensive jokes, slurs, name-calling, physical attacks or threats, threats, ridicule, insults, offensive images, etc. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sex-based harassment claims, including those alleging sexual harassment, increased from 12,695 in 2010 to 13,055 in 2018.

Workplace harassment is not limited to sexual harassment and does not preclude harassment between two people of the same sex. The harasser could be your boss, a supervisor in another department, a co-worker, or even a non-employee. Interestingly, the victim should not disturb the individual; Any disturbing behavior can influence it. To file a valid harassment claim, you must show that your employer has tried to prevent and correct the harassment conduct and that the employee has inadvertently rejected the employer’s corrective efforts.

Types of Workplace Harassment

Here are the most commonly known examples of workplace harassment-

  • Racial Harassment

Both in and out of the workplace, people of color face a lot of prejudice. So when businesses establish a pleasant work atmosphere for everyone, you must also include people of all ethnicities. This includes not only tokenism but also providing them with equal chances and pay.

  • Verbal Accusations 

People who are weak at mind or soft at heart are often intimidated by those who yell at them. Verbal abuse is one of the most prevalent workplace harassment that is seen. This is not only limited to the increase in volume in one’s tone, but also includes the usage of abusive language and shaming co-workers due to their body size, color, and race.

  • Cyberbullying

As the digital market has taken a surge, so has social media bullying. Employees are often forced or harassed to have a social media presence, share and comment on posts they might not be interested in. Demeaning and harassing co-workers, such as catfishing on someone’s behalf, is also popularly seen as workplace harassment.

  • Physical Harassment 

Physical harassment is any type of physical violence, like tampering with clothing, inappropriate touching, and assaults, making it uncomfortable for a person. It is the most common type of workplace harassment. 

  • Harassment Cases in  Job Interviews

It’s difficult to tell whether a situation is worthy of workplace harassment or not. However, some common situations could be count in workplace harassment:

  1. Jack is the victim of workplace harassment when his boss continuously referred to him regarding his country of origin and negatively characterized his work based on his heritage.
  2. Allen filed a claim with the EEOC because her boss restricted her to a receptionist role based on her appearance, despite having a college degree and having the skills for an inside sales job. He repeatedly said that customers liked the “front view”.
  3. Bonnie was subject to workplace harassment when her supervisor took her out for drinks on several occasions and told her she could go a long way if she played her cards correctly.
  4. Jen was uneasy in the context of co-workers’ sexual conquests in the break room. He responded to this workplace harassment by referring to inconvenience to one of the perpetrators with whom he had a relationship. He talked to the others, and their behavior took off.

The Law and Your Choices

Harassment becomes unlawful when:

  1.  Perpetuating the offensive conduct becomes a condition for continued employment, or
  2.  A reasonable person would consider the workplace intimidating, hostile, or disrespectful; that’s why conduct is so pervasive. Also, if the supervisor’s harassment results in an apparent change in the employee’s pay or status, this conduct would be considered unlawful workplace harassment.

Any person who believes that their employment rights have been violated can accuse the EEOC of discrimination.

However, before doing so, victims should generally try to resolve the internal situation. One option is to reach out to the offending person directly. Another option may involve contacting your supervisor for assistance if you are uncomfortable facing the offender directly.

According to an AARP survey, six out of 10 older workers have witnessed or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, and 90% believe it is prevalent. 

In cases where the perpetrator is your supervisor or if you are uncomfortable reaching out to them, you can contact the human resources department or your supervisor’s boss and resolve the request. In addition, many organizations provide an EEO or Workplace Grievance Officer with expertise in these issues, which can be contacted for a confidential consultation.

According to a poll conducted by HR Acuity, 46% of workers fear retaliation, and 39% aren’t convinced that their concerns will be treated properly. In addition, individuals are hesitant to file complaints because of these fears, which means HR and senior executives may be unaware of problems in their businesses.

  • Some states and companies have broader definitions

Some states have laws that prohibit discrimination or harassment, whether a person is a smoker or not. In addition, some states, including Wisconsin and New York, along with some private companies, have laws or policies that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on arrest records or convictions. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll indicated that 33 million American women had been sexually assaulted in work-related incidents.

Some prohibit discrimination concerning other people’s receipt of public assistance. For example, the District of Columbia prohibits discrimination based on marital status, personal appearance, family responsibilities, matriculation, or political affiliation.

Job applicants and other harassment victims may choose to consult a labor/employment lawyer if other measures have not resulted in a satisfactory resolution. If so, be sure to choose an attorney with extensive experience and certification in employment law. Your local bar association will generally provide information on state certification or methods for identifying specialists.

Government Efforts

  • The Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 makes appropriate provisions in this regard.
  • The Act broadly defines sexual harassment at the workplace and entails forming an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) if complaints of sexual harassment are received in an institution.
  •  Complaints of sexual harassment must be disposed of within three months of the incident, but this time limit can also be extended in different circumstances.
  •  Section 26(1) of the Act states that if the company fails to perform its duties under this Act, it will be liable to pay a fine of Rs 50,000.

Harassment in the workplace is more frequent than we realize. It is common for victims to be unsure of what defines harassment in the workplace or what to the Act made employers responsible for preventing sexual harassment at the workplace. A comprehensive training on anti-harassment helps recognise various types of workplace harassment and how to respond to it.

Related Content


Impactly’s online sexual harassment and diversity, equity & inclusion training packages are used by hundreds of organizations across the country. Impactly is powered by Get Inclusive, one of the largest providers of prevention and compliance training for colleges and universities.