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Harassment & Discrimination

4 Types of Harassment at Work You Need to Know About


Dec 22, 2015

harassment work typesHarassment at work isn’t always sexual in nature—that’s just the type you hear about most often in the media.

It definitely happens, but it isn’t the only form of harassment in the workplace. There are many different kinds of harassment, and some of those are what we’re reviewing.

Different Kinds of Harassment at Work

When we talk about harassment, there are two different types. The first is unlawful, which means the harassment is directed at a protected class. Unlawful harassment violates Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws and can lead to prosecution.

The second type of harassment is more commonly called workplace bullying. This type of harassment consists of repeated actions directed toward an employee that are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate or undermine—this type isn’t necessarily based on a protected class, but is still damaging to the health of a work environment and the productivity of its employees.

With that in mind, here are some other types of harassment to watch out for at work.

1. Religious

Since we are right in the middle of the holiday season, this seems like the most obvious place to start. This time of year, you should pay special attention to religious harassment.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure no one is required to participate in religious activities as a condition of employment
  • Allow employees time off for religious holidays that fall outside of Christmas if it’s a reasonable request
  • Permit employees to display religious icons if it doesn’t interfere with work
  • Ensure your employees speak about religion with respect.

If a group of employees repeatedly make offensive comments about a particular religion, it could be considered unlawful harassment. Religion is a protected class, so make sure your employees are clear on what they can and cannot say or do regarding religion.

2. Humor/Jokes

Our co-workers are the people we spend most of our time with—at least eight hours a day, five days a week—so it’s only natural we feel comfortable cracking jokes together. But, sometimes those jokes can go too far.

Even if someone isn’t making a joke about a protected class, you still have to make sure the joke isn’t offensive. Because we are so close to our co-workers, it can be hard to speak up if someone is hurting our feelings with constant jokes. And when a situation isn’t addressed, it has the potential to get out of hand.

It’s also possible that a bully will try to use humor to degrade another employee. If Joe is consistently belittling everything Sally says in meetings—even if it’s funny—he is still bullying her. And this bullying can negatively affect Sally’s performance at work.

3. Disabilities

The term ‘disabilities’ is much broader than most might realize, and disabilities aren’t always limited to what we can see.

For example, every time there is food at work, Joan comments about how Brian can’t eat anything because of his diabetes, so they are stuck with food she doesn’t like. She also repeatedly complains to other co-workers about Brian being allowed to eat at work when others are not. Then, she tries to sneak extra sugar into Brian’s foods without him noticing. Finally, she lifts up his shirt to “see if he really does have an insulin pump.”

Brian starts to feel nervous and anxious around Joan. He becomes worried every time he needs to eat his snacks, and he feels violated because she tried to alter his food.

If you didn’t realize it, Joan is harassing Brian based on his diabetes—which is a protected disability. So make sure you are aware of how EEO laws define a disability and the different types.

4. Ageism

Harassment based on age is one of the more nuanced types. As defined by EEO laws, only those over 40 are considered part of a protected class. Those that are under 40 are not. That means if an employee is harassed because of their age, it’s only unlawful if they are over 40.

However, just because it’s not unlawful doesn’t mean it can’t be workplace bullying if the person is under 40. So a 25-year-old manager that is repeatedly ignored, devalued and disrespected by her older subordinates is being bullied—and that needs to be looked out for and corrected.

Preventing Harassment at Your Work

Harassment at work is bad for business. Unlawful harassment puts your company at risk for legal action while workplace bullying creates a negative office environment.

To reduce workplace harassment, you need to be aware of the many different types, like the ones we discussed here: religious, jokes, disabilities and ageism. You also need to ensure your employees are trained on these different types of harassment.

Our interactive harassment prevention training courses will help you mitigate risk and create an inclusive workplace that’s free from all types of harassment.

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