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How to Spot Harassment in the Workplace

by Team ZenBusiness

- December 14, 2019 7:00 am

Unfortunately, many people face harassment in the workplace. This is especially true for women in business and minorities

There are many different ways harassment can occur, including physical, verbal, cyber, and sexual harassment. Because there are so many types, harassment in the workplace might be difficult to spot. 

It’s important to note that workplace harassment of any kind is illegal, as it is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Workplace harassment can make for a hostile work environment, affecting the employee, the employer, and the organization as a whole. If harassment is occurring in the workplace, the employer is liable for the damage done to employees. 

Protect yourself and those around you by understanding how to spot harassment in the workplace. We’ll also discuss what to do if you are the victim of workplace harassment. 

What Is Workplace Harassment?

Unlike other types of crime, harassment isn’t always cut and dry. Many people believe they’ll know harassment when they see it, but that’s not always the case. 

More often than not, victims of harassment are left wondering whether what they’re feeling is truly a result of harassment or not. That’s because harassment can make people feel different things, from anger to stress, anxiety, and even depression. This confusion can prevent people from filing any kind of formal report. 

Workplace Harassment Examples

Anyone, including employers and employees, can be victims of harassment. Harassment is any unwelcome conduct that is based on race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability, or genetic makeup of a person. While there may not be physical evidence, the following instances can still be considered harassment: 

  • Petty slights. 
  • Annoyances. 
  • Hostile behavior. 
  • Offensive jokes or slurs. 
  • Name-calling. 
  • Physical assaults or threats, including intimidation. 
  • Mockery. 
  • Insults. 
  • Offensive objects or photos. 

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance made on an employee, including: 

  • Requests for sexual favors. 
  • Verbal sexual abuse.
  • Physical sexual conduct.
  • Harassment based on a person’s sex. 

The Pew Research Center found that more Americans think men getting away with sexual harassment and female accusers are not believed when they report it are major problems in the American workplace. According to a report from the Marketplace-Edison Research Poll, 21% of Americans say they’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. That same report discovered that individuals felt their careers were damaged by being sexually harassed at work. 52% of those employees who were sexually harassed made a career change. 

Moreover, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that anywhere from 25% to 85% of women reported having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in 2016. What’s worse is that sexual harassment in the workplace only seems to be increasing

To put a stop to sexual harassment in the workplace, start with telling the harasser to stop. File a complaint with your supervisor or Human Resources department, and document when you do so. If that doesn’t stop the sexual harassment from occurring, file a complaint with a government agency before you file a lawsuit. There are laws in place to protect you from sexual harassment at work, and most states have fair employment practices in place that prohibit sexual harassment. 

Verbal Harassment

Verbal harassment is behavior such as making threats, yelling, insulting, or cursing at another employee in a way that makes them uncomfortable. It can be done in public or in private, but regardless of where it occurs, verbal harassment can make for a hostile work environment. 

Other examples of verbal harassment include: 

  • Condescension. 
  • Criticism.
  • Degradation.
  • Manipulation. 
  • Blame. 
  • Gaslighting. 
  • Circular arguments. 

To put a stop to verbal harassment in your place of business, start by trying to talk with the person who is verbally harassing you. Sometimes demonstrating concern or pointing out the fact that they’re making you uncomfortable can be beneficial. 

If that strategy doesn’t work, check your employee handbook to see what can be done. There aren’t federal or state laws against verbal bullying, but your company may have a policy about a respectful workplace. If possible, file a report with your Human Resources department. 

Cyber Harassment

Cyber harassment is an act that makes someone else uncomfortable through the use of technology. In your place of business, you may have experienced cyber harassment in a number of ways, including: 

  • Threatening emails. 
  • Social media humiliation or insults.
  • Doxing, or publishing your private information with malice. 
  • Hateful speech on work communication platforms.  
  • Text message bullying. 
  • Cyberbullying. 
  • Threats on online platforms. 
  • Cyberstalking. 
  • Online sexual harassment. 
  • Message bombing, or sending messages to incite an argument. 

To put an end to cyber harassment, document the harassment and report it right away to Human Resources. Additionally, implementing processes and training that explains how to safely and effectively use digital communications in a place of business can be beneficial in preventing cyber harassment from occurring. 

How to Report Harassment

Too many people neglect to report harassment when it occurs. They may be afraid of what will happen to them, or they think they’re in the wrong, lacking evidence to back up their claim of harassment. Other people don’t report workplace harassment because they fear the person they’re reporting may retaliate. 

Not reporting harassment is not the answer. If you are the victim of harassment in the workplace, here’s how you can handle the situation safely and effectively. 

Employee Reporting

If you are an employee who is the victim of workplace harassment, talk with your Human Resources department. Don’t retaliate against the person who is harassing you, as this can only worsen the scenario and could damage your defense. 

Similarly, don’t complain to other coworkers about what’s going on. Instead, communicate directly with Human Resources, presenting them with any record that you have documenting the harassment. Be patient as they work through the repercussion process, as they’ll need to gather their own information and, of course, speak with the person accused of harassment. 

Employer Reporting

As an employer, there’s plenty you can do preventively to stop these issues from occurring. For starters, create policies around sexual harassment that designate clear boundaries on the behavior that’s acceptable in the workplace. 

Failure to respond to reports of harassment, or fully protect employees, can be devastating to an organization. While incorporating a business or forming an LLC can be beneficial in terms of protecting an organization or entrepreneur from some forms of liability, employers all have a duty to protect their employees. This includes preventing harassment, and responding appropriately if and when it is reported.

When workplace harassment issues occur, listen to the accusations carefully. Try to collect as much information as you can so that you can make the best decision for your employees. Do so with the utmost discretion to prevent further damage, and when the issue is resolved, never openly discuss it with people that were not involved. 

Remember that happy employees are effective employees. Workplace harassment is just one of the many challenges that come with running a business, and that, as a business owner, it’s your responsibility to protect your employees. 

Whether you work for a small business or a major corporation, harassment in the workplace should not be tolerated.  

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