What is Workplace Harassment


Woman stressed out in front of her laptop due to workplace harassmentSince the spread of the #MeToo movement, many employers have strengthened their policies regarding sexual harassment. While a lot of progress has been made in this area, stricter reinforcement has not completely stopped such incidences. In October 2018, NBC Los Angeles reported about a woman whose dream job in Southern California turned into a nightmare after she was sexually assaulted by a manager. And this is just one example of many instances of workplace harassment.

Employers and employees both benefit from a safe, respectful working environment—and workplace harassment can destroy otherwise harmonious inter-personal relationships. Harassment in a professional setting can also negatively impact productivity and efficiency.

Just as worryingly, many victims don’t know what qualifies as harassment and have no clue what to do when such situations occur. This is the primary reason why so many cases of harassment go unreported.

To fight this kind of problem, one must understand what workplace harassment is and learn how to identify it in its various forms.

Workplace Harassment Definition

Workplace harassment can be defined as actions or comments that offend victims, creating a tense or hostile work environment. The harassment can come from superiors, co-workers, as well as customers. Depending on the scenario and the legally protected class, an employee may be protected from such forms of harassment.

The most common forms of harassment are:

  • Physical harassment: These include unwanted contact, inappropriate gestures, and the violation of personal space.
  • Verbal or written harassment: These include inappropriate jokes (about gender, race, disability etc.); requesting sexual favors; or patronizing one’s accent.
  • Visual harassment: Sending emails, texts, or photos that are sexual in nature.

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, no employer should discriminate against any employee based on their race, sex, religion, or nationality. Title VII also prohibits harassment based on a person’s membership in a protected class. The statute is enforceable in both public and private sector organizations with 15 or more employees. This extends to the federal government, labor organizations, and employment agencies.

Types of Workplace Harassment

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can be direct or indirect. Overt forms are unwanted sexual advances and sexual favors requested by colleagues. Some employees may feel uncomfortable when certain co-workers make inappropriate sexual jokes. Besides these, sexually provocative images such as computer screensavers and photos can be classified as subtle forms of sexual harassment.

Disability Harassment

While harassing employees with disabilities is against the law, such cases are still reported in the workplace. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, employers cannot harass or discriminate against employees who possess the qualifications and skills to perform the job. Protection extends to hiring, salaries, promotions, termination, and benefits.

Racial Harassment

A hostile work environment is created when workers make offensive remarks about a specific race or ethnicity. The law prohibits employers and their employees from treating certain colleagues differently based on their ethnicity. Understand that even positive comments and light-hearted jokes about a certain race may be deemed offensive.

Religious Harassment

Some employees follow certain dress codes or practices because of their religious beliefs. Employers are expected to make reasonable accommodations for such employees. Furthermore, employers are obliged to protect all employees from religious discrimination in the workplace.

Gender Harassment

Hiring a man over an equally qualified woman due to gender preference is considered to be gender discrimination. Making jokes or remarks about someone’s ability to perform a task because of their gender can also be deemed as harassment. It’s worth noting that members of the LGBT community are also prone to similar types of harassment. This is why employers must learn to combat gender harassment in the workplace.

Workplace Retaliation

When victims file a charge of harassment with their HR department, a government agency, or in court, they risk retaliatory actions from disgruntled bosses and co-workers. Such behavior is against the law. If you’ve experienced intimidation and other negative behavior because you filed a complaint, you can seek legal help.

Seek Legal Representation for Workplace Harassment Lawsuits

Workplace harassment can sometimes be difficult to identify—and even if you have a strong case, you’ll need solid proof to back up your claims. Before filing any legal claims, it’s advisable to settle the situation internally by discussing your feelings with the harasser. If the individual harassing you is a boss, reach out to HR or your boss’s superior to rectify the situation.

If these actions fail to resolve your problem, then seek the help of an experienced employment harassment lawyer to safeguard your rights and pursue your claims against your aggressor. Los Angeles-based Mesriani Law Group has over two decades of experience representing victims of employment and labor law violations. With their help, you’re more likely to secure the compensation you deserve from the at-fault party.


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