Unfortunately, even the sharpest of HR professionals sometimes misses the signs of workplace harassment. For one, it’s almost impossible to keep watch over what all your employees are doing. And secondly, employees have their own ideas about what it means to behave professionally in the workplace.
For example, one employee might find curse words perfectly acceptable to use in every day conversations with coworkers while another thinks they are never okay and actually finds them very offensive.
And since one of the definitions of workplace harassment is creating a hostile work environment, it can be challenging for HR professionals to put themselves in the shoes of all employees and identify every behavior that a reasonable person would say crosses the line into harassment and that goes doubly for your employees.
So to help you out, we’ve identified three types of workplace harassment, offered examples of each type, and provided some solutions that will help educate your employees.
Three Types of Workplace Harassment & Examples
Verbal or written is probably the most obvious form of workplace harassment—and the one you come across most often. Here are some examples:
- Sending emails with offensive jokes or graphics about race or religion
- Requesting repeatedly for dates or sexual favors in person or through text
- Asking about family history of illnesses or genetic disorders
- Making derogatory comments about someone’s disability or age
- Imitating someone’s foreign accent behind their back
The biggest thing to watch out for nowadays is technology. For example, if one employee forwards an email with a pornographic image, it can circulate to the point where everyone in the office sees it—even if that’s not what the original sender was intending.
Physical harassment might be a little harder to recognize because it can sometimes be very subtle.
- Lewd hand gestures or other gestures meant to convey curse words
- Unwanted touching of a person or their clothing
- Frequently following or standing too close to a person on purpose
- Making sexually suggestive facial expressions
- Playing music with offensive or degrading language
Many times it doesn’t even have to be directed at the person to be harassment. So for example, if two coworkers are joking around and one makes an inappropriate hand gesture and someone else sees it, they might feel uncomfortable and even harassed.
Visual is probably the hardest to spot because it’s the most subjective and really requires you to put yourself in the shoes of the reasonable person.
- Wearing clothing with offensive or vulgar language
- Displaying posters or pictures of a sexual nature
- Showing other people sexually suggestive text messages or emails
- Watching pornographic or violent videos
- Drawing violent or derogatory images
For example, someone might have a comic strip displayed at their workstation and while most people might find the joke funny, someone else might find it offensive and say that it’s creating a hostile work environment.
to be continued