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What Can I Do if I Am Being Mentally Harassed by a Co-Worker?

by Cindy Quarters

When harassment occurs at the mall, in the grocery store or at the park, it’s possible to just walk away from it. It becomes more difficult to deal with when the harassment happens someplace you have to spend a lot of time, such as on the job. Whether the problem is the result of someone being insensitive, ignorant or downright mean, it’s essential to deal with workplace harassment so that everybody feels safe and can focus on doing a good job.

What it Is

Harassment is unwanted and offensive or threatening attention, comments, pictures or behavior. It may relate to age, especially for people older than 40, gender, religious preference, disabilities or race. Mental harassment typically takes the form of offensive jokes, racial slurs, sexual pressure or rude remarks. Because harassment is a legal term, it doesn’t cover other areas, but that shouldn’t make you afraid to report behavior that bothers you. Even if your problem doesn’t fit the legal definition of harassment, employers will typically work to put a stop to it.

Electronic Harassment

It’s possible that some forms of harassment from a co-worker won’t take place in person but will instead come to you via various electronic devices. People sometimes harass others by sending harassing emails, text messages and instant messages. If you have a co-worker sending you these types of unwanted communications, save the messages to show to your manager. Deleting the messages makes it your word against his. Harassment can be hard to prove without witnesses or evidence.

What to Report

A company is not likely to take legal action against an occasional inappropriate joke or rude comment, but if it happens on a regular basis you have a right to get it stopped. For instance, if religious or racial jokes frequently get passed around in the break room, it’s reportable because you co-workers are creating a hostile work environment. Even if it’s just one co-worker being rude and inappropriate, if it happens more than once or twice, you definitely need to report it.

How to Report It

How you report harassment by a co-worker depends in part on your workplace. It’s not uncommon for large companies to have a specific written procedure you must follow when reporting problems. If your company doesn’t have such a policy in place, report the harassment to your manager or to the human resources department. Keep a log of what the person said or did and when it happened, to give your claim credibility. If your company won’t do anything, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in your area can help you take legal action against the company for allowing the co-worker to harass you.

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