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How to Identify Workplace Harassment

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How to Identify Workplace Harassment. Although most workplace harassment is male to female, the problem encompasses much more than gender and sex discrimination. According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, individuals with legally protected characteristics have a right to work in an environment free from unwanted intimidation, ridicule, degradation and sexual advances. Learn to identify workplace harassment to protect your rights and the rights of others.

Understand what constitutes a hostile work environment. You may have a workplace harassment case if you feel uncomfortable at work because others make unwanted comments or take unwanted actions based on your legally protected characteristics, such as age, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation and disability.

Know that you can be the victim of workplace harassment even if you are not the perpetrator's intended target. If you overhear harassing comments or witness harassing behavior that you find offensive, you may have a legitimate workplace harassment claim.

Become aware of what legally qualifies as sexual harassment. Examples of workplace sexual harassment include, but are not limited to, inappropriate staring, unwanted comments about appearance, making sexual gestures, telling sexually explicit jokes, and displaying or distributing lewd materials.

Learn what constitutes non-sexual workplace harassment. It is illegal to make jokes, display or distribute materials, perpetuate stereotypes, or make derogatory or threatening comments targeted toward individuals or groups with legally protected characteristics.

Hold management to a higher standard. Although anybody, including vendors and other third parties, can create a hostile work environment, only those with supervisory positions can commit workplace harassment that results in a tangible change in employment status. A manager cannot take any action against an employee, such as hiring, firing, demotion or transfer, based on protected characteristics.

Draw the line when appropriate. Although it is legal, within certain parameters, to compliment coworkers and to display personal materials in the workplace, harassment law has some gray areas, so it's better to be safe than sorry. For example, while it's legal to ask a coworker for a romantic date, repeated unwanted requests and advancements can constitute harassment.

Distinguish unwanted actions from consensual behavior. Workplace harassment, by definition, must be unwanted on the part of the target. In order for harassment to constitute a hostile work environment, it must be pervasive and offensive from an objective standpoint.


If you identify workplace harassment, report the incident immediately. Most companies provide employees with confidential lines of communication specifically for reporting such incidents. If you do not feel comfortable discussing the harassment with someone inside the organization, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or an attorney. Know that it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who files a legitimate workplace harassment complaint or claim.


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