Understanding Workplace Harassment, A Guest Blog Post from Hogan Injury

Many people who hear the term “workplace harassment” immediately think about sexual harassment in the office. Although sexual harassment is one of the types of workplace harassment, this is not the only kind that an employee may experience in their workplace.

Workplace harassment is any form of unwelcome, sometimes unlawful, conduct that may come from different sources inside the organization. Aside from coming from a higher authority figure, it can also come from coworkers, group of coworkers, vendors, and even customers. The most severe forms of workplace harassment include physical harm, threats, and intimidation; this doesn’t include what others would consider as “small things” like jokes or nicknames that are offensive to the person being harassed and offensive images or objects blatantly put on display. Preventing someone from doing their work is also a form of harassment.

The question now is what constitutes harassment in the workplace? This depends on the state where you live since there are different definitions of harassment for every state, an excellent example of this is Florida where “fat jokes” are considered to be harassment. To give you a clearer idea, here are a few types of workplace harassment:

1. Quid pro quo. – The term quid pro quo means “something for something.” Quid pro quo is a type of harassment that seeks to give an employee favors in exchange for something that the employee could provide their harasser. Although usually associated with sexual harassment, quid pro quo can involve other favors that the employee can give the authority figure like a cut on commissions.

2. Hostile work environment. – The office should be a place where an employee can do their job correctly and creating a hostile work environment for any particular employee is considered harassment. Conducts like bullying, lewd or racist jokes, and offensive teasing that interferes with the harassed employee’s ability to perform their tasks can be viewed as harassment. Verbal and written threats that make an employee feel unsafe and unable to perform also fall into this category.

3. Retaliation. – There are federal and state laws that prohibit retaliation against employees who file complaints about harassment. Retaliation against employees who were not directly harassed but are witnesses to the incident being investigated or in any way part of the investigation is also against the law. Some examples of retaliation harassment are the denial of promotion or benefits, demotion, suspension, or unlawfully being discharged from the company.

4. Sexual harassment. – By far the most known type of workplace harassment. It is considered as sexual harassment in the workplace when sexual favors or relationships are being bargained in exchange for promotions or other benefits for the employee from an authority figure. Teasing in a sexual way and inappropriate touching is also considered to be sexual harassment. Here’s a full article about sexual harassment in the office.

These are some concrete examples of conduct or behavior that may be considered as workplace harassment:

1. Making derogatory comments about someone’s age, race, religion, national origin, sex or gender, physical or mental disability, color, and weight.

2. Offensive or lewd hand gestures that are meant to communicate curse words or sexual messages and sexually suggestive facial expressions.

3. Persistently following a person with no justifiable reason or standing too close to a person.

4. Wearing clothing that has offensive or vulgar words or messages.

All employees must adhere to a standard of professionalism in the workplace. Everyone is expected to show proper etiquette and to act civil when inside the office to try and create a safe space where business can be conducted, and workplace harassment inhibits the flourishing of this space.

Suffering from workplace harassment? Contact us at Hogan Injury for expert legal advice.

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