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What Constitutes Workplace Harassment?

by Lisa Finn, studioD

By law, every person has the right to work in an environment free of intimidation. Continuous disparaging remarks, yelling, offensive pictures or conversation, assaults and threats are examples of verbal and non-verbal harassment in the workplace. Harassment can be based on race, religion or gender -- the protected classes defined in federal law. But actions that make going to work unbearable for any reasonable person also can be defined as harassment. Harassment can come from a co-worker, boss or client.


Someone who continuously belittles another person's work, either directly to the person or to other people, is violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The same goes for yelling or making sexual-, age-, ethnic- or religion-disparaging remarks. If a co-worker relentlessly whispers about another person, for example, and it harms the targeted employee's emotional well-being and job performance, this is considered verbal harassment.


A person who gives an abnormal amount of unwanted hugs, continually touches while talking, or tries to kiss others without consent is considered a sexual harasser. Physical, sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as a series of incidents that harms a person's career advancement or performance. For example, it might cause the person to be absent more often. Physical harassment include hitting, pushing or blocking a person from moving about.


Performance-related harassment occurs when a manager fails to promote, unlawfully fires, takes earned benefits away or unfairly re-assigns a person without warning or fair explanation. An example of this is an employee reaching his desk in the morning only to find his personal and professional belongings moved to another area, and being told, without warning, that he now is expected to perform a different job.

What Harrassment Is Not

There are bound to be times when undesirable actions take place at work, but not everything uncomfortable or stressful is harassment. Annoying workplace behavior, such as teasing, making isolated comments or wearing offensive perfume are not considered harassing. If a man pats a woman on the back for a job well done, the gesture may be unwelcome, but it is not harassment.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Lisa Finn has been writing professionally for 20 years. Her print and online articles appear in magazines and websites such as "Spa Magazine," "L.A. Parent," "Business," the Famous Footwear blog and many others. She also ghostwrites for mompreneurs and business owners who appear regularly on shows such as Ricki Lake, HGTV, Carson Daly and The Today Show.

Photo Credits

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