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Workplace Safety: What You Need to Know About Harassment at Work

You’ve likely experienced or witnessed harassment at work, even if you didn’t notice.

Harassment is common, yet many people fail to understand exactly what constitutes as harassment. Some employees have felt uncomfortable after an interaction that went too far, yet they may have not known that what they experienced was harassment. And some employees may harass others, unaware that they’re crossing a line.

Understanding harassment is an essential part of workplace safety. Employees and employers must know how to prevent harassment, as well as how to respond to it.

Read on to learn about how harassment jeopardizes workplace safety and how to deal with misconduct.

What Is Workplace Harassment?

Harassment can take many shapes, though it almost always feels bad for the victim. Harassment is defined as any physical or verbal behavior that is unwelcome and based on:

  • sex or gender identity
  • sexual orientation
  • race or nationality
  • skin color
  • religion
  • age
  • physical or mental disability
  • power difference (such as hazing or bullying a new employee)

Workplace harassment involves intimidating the victim, whether intentional or not. This can create a hostile work environment, making it difficult for the victim to continue working comfortably. In fact, around 20% of employees have quit a job due to harassment.

Some people are more commonly targeted by harassment. Though anyone can experience harassment, women and minorities tend to be on the receiving end of misconduct more often than other groups.

Types of Harassment

Part of why harassment may be common—and why it’s not always detected—is because there isn’t just one clearly-defined type. There are several types of harassment that may happen at work.

Some common kinds of harassment include:

  • sexual harassment
  • physical harassment (including violent or threatening behavior or damaging another’s property)
  • discriminatory harassment
  • power harassment
  • psychological harassment (including attacking one’s character or making condescending comments)
  • cyberbullying
  • verbal harassment

Examples of Workplace Harassment

Remember, there isn’t one type or image of harassment. Any unwelcome behavior that creates a hostile environment for another employee is considered harassment.

However, if you’re not sure what workplace harassment could look like, it helps to learn from some common scenarios.

Many people are aware of sexual harassment, though they may not know what actually counts as sexual harassment. Some examples include unwanted touching (even a hand on the shoulder can be unwanted), asking personal details about one’s sex life, or making comments about another’s body in a sexual way.

Another example of workplace harassment comes in the form of power harassment. Many may think it’s normal to deal with an angry, aggressive boss. But if your boss throws things, threatens violences, or makes demands outside the scope of your role, it could be power harassment.

When it comes to discriminatory harassment, anything that marginalizes an employee’s identity is considered harassment. Joking about another’s nationality can be harassment. And forcing another to conform to a certain appearance or hairstyle that’s in line with another race is also a form of discriminatory harassment.

Employers’ Role in Workplace Safety

Harassment can be the fault of an employer, manager, or lower-ranking employees. But no matter who’s responsible for the misconduct, employers have an important role in fighting and preventing harassment.

Employers must provide a safe environment, and that means they must do everything in their control to eliminate harassment.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “[t]he employer will be liable for harassment by [supervisors and] non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control… if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.”

As an employer, then, it is crucial to create a workplace that leaves no room for harassment.

One way to do this is by leading regular training sessions and workshops to educate employees on harassment. These educational sessions should clearly define what is considered harassment and who is in charge of handling misconduct. That way, employees know who to turn to if they need help.

There should also be appropriate consequences in place for those who harass another employee. At a minimum, employees who have engaged in harassing behaviors should be given additional training and education to prevent future incidents. In some cases, they may also need to be suspended, removed from their team, or fired, depending on the circumstances.

Steps should also be taken to protect the employee who has faced harassment. They may need certain accommodations following the incident to help them feel comfortable again. This could include changing their team, working from home, or receiving counseling. These steps are important to create a safe work environment for those who have experienced hostile behavior.

What to Do if You’ve Experienced Harassment at Work

If you’re an employee who has dealt with harassment in the workplace, you have every right to protect yourself and demand change.

The first step to do this is to contact a trusted supervisor at your company. This could include a manager or HR person.

Inform them of the incident, even if it occurred outside the office. For example, harassment at a happy hour event or online is still worth reporting. Similarly, harassment that was at the hands of a client or outsourced worker should be reported.

If you feel unsafe talking to someone from your company, turn to a union representative, counselor, or the EEOC.

You can also get legal representation with the help of a lawyer. Find one in your area that focuses on the type of harassment you experienced, such as a sexual harassment lawyer. They can help you take the steps needed to protect yourself, including filing a lawsuit.

Leave No Room for Harassment in the Workplace

Workplace safety requires a workplace to be free of harassment. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, it’s essential to understand what harassment is and how to prevent it.

And if you’ve experienced harassment already, remember that you deserve to feel safe at work. Seek help from a manager, lawyer, or another trusted person.

For more workplace tips, check out our other business articles!

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