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Example of Workplace Harassment

by Adele Burney

Harassment or bullying behavior can turn even the most wonderful job into a nightmare. It’s hard to concentrate on your work or complete assignments if you fear a co-worker’s malicious antics. Government laws have made workplace harassment illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. Behavior that violates these acts should be brought to the attention of your employer or human resources department.

Identifying Harassment

Although you may find your boss's repetitious jokes about your height unfunny, they are not considered harassment. Harassment in regards to the workplace is unwelcome conduct or comments that directly reference a protected sector of a person’s civil rights. Examples are remarks about a person’s race, nationality, age, disability or sexual orientation. When the behavior continues or escalates, then it becomes a harassment issue. A one-time incident would not be considered harassment . Annoying co-workers, or pettiness, such as never refilling the coffee pot, is not considered harassment. The offenses have to be severe enough to directly affect your job or workplace environment.

Racial Harassment

Being racially harassed in the workplace is a very serious matter since it violates the Civil Rights Act. This type of harassment includes deliberately berating someone with racial slurs or phrases. A co-worker who puts up racially charged pictures, such as those depicting swastikas or a confederate flag, is also engaging in a subtle form of harassment since these items are considered offensive to some groups of people. A co-worker who continually tells racist jokes is committing a form of workplace harassment even though the jokes may not be directed toward a particular employee. Employees who regularly overhear these jokes have grounds for a harassment suit if they feel their rights are being violated. Derogatory and negative comments directed at employees regarding their religious beliefs, age or sexual orientation are a form of harassment, especially if these comments persist and nothing is done about it.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment occurs when the office or workplace becomes a hostile environment based on sexually charged actions directed at a worker. Examples include a supervisor who exchanges or withholds promotions or raises for sexual favors. Other actions may include ogling and making suggestive comments about clothing, body parts, or looks. Touching or caressing an employee or co-worker in a suggestive manner may also be considered sexual harassment, especially if there are multiple incidents. A co-worker who insists on rubbing your shoulders even though you have asked him to stop is a good example.

Hostile Work Environment

Employees often speak of working in a hostile work environment. This term should not be used lightly. A hostile work environment occurs when the insults, jokes and offensive remarks start to affect your ability to work, both physically and mentally. For example, if you are handicapped and certain co-workers continually put obstacles in your way or make it harder to do your job, then this would be a considered a hostile environment. Supervisors can also contribute to a hostile work environment if they are the ones harassing you and preventing you from moving or being promoted. Fear of repercussion from your supervisor if you report the harassment is another contributor to the antagonistic environment.

About the Author

Adele Burney started her writing career in 2009 when she was a featured writer in "Membership Matters," the magazine for Junior League. She is a finance manager who brings more than 10 years of accounting and finance experience to her online articles. Burney has a degree in organizational communications and a Master of Business Administration from Rollins College.

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