Harassment is everywhere. 81% of women have experienced harassment in their life. There are varying degrees of harassment – ranging from unwelcome advances or lewd comments, to sexual assault. This is a serious matter and should not be taken lightly as it involves an individual’s dignity and self-respect. If your goal is to build a high-performance multicultural team, harassment is a toxic element that needs to be stamped out.
It’s important to understand what is and is not a form of harassment. If you have clear guidelines in mind, you can better react to harassment directed at you, a friend or colleague. And we certainly don’t want to set off alarm bells that cause false accusations and painful situations for innocent victims.
If you believe you’ve experienced any type of harassment, you must take immediate action. If you fail to set clear boundaries, you may continue to suffer from inappropriate behavior by others.
But how do you know for sure if you are a victim of harassment? How can you take action? And how do you know if an act is legally considered harassment?
I’ve outlined a few examples of harassment in the workplace. But remember, harassment is not limited to a workplace setting.
Racial Harassment in the Workplace
This type of harassment usually occurs in an organization when an individual is a minority member of the local population. A victim may experience racial harassment because of their physical appearance. It’s important to clearly define the focus of the bully’s actions or statements.
Some common focal points for racial harassment include, but are not limited to the following:
- Hair color
- Skin color
- Origin country
Gender Based Harassment in the Workplace
This type of harassment can occur virtually anywhere. A victim may experience this type of harassment if they choose a lifestyle that is inconsistent with the majority’s view of how a gender should operate within societal norms.
These are examples of people and situations that could trigger unjustified gender based harassment at work or home:
- A female working a construction job.
- A male working behind the cosmetics counter in a department store.
Verbal Harassment in the Workplace
Verbal harassment is one of the most common forms of harassment. It could be an off-color joke, or an attack meant to make the victim feel small, or inferior to the people around them. The problem is that the vast majority of verbal harassment is not handled appropriately. It’s often ignored or victims respond by attempting to score their own digs.
The problem is that two wrongs don’t make a right. Verbal harassment can be toxic to a business or organization. Headlines highlight how “bro-culture” is taking over major industries. This is code for a culture that is derogatory towards women – with verbal assaults being commonplace.
Here are some common types of verbal harassment:
- Statements which are humiliating to individuals or groups, made in a public or private space.
- Slurs or jeers made in front of co-workers or customers.
Physical Harassment in the Workplace
This type of harassment is the scariest of all. This mostly occurs in organizations, schools and even in the workplace. Physical harassment goes beyond verbal threats and intimidation. There is a physical act that takes place – grabbing, pulling, hitting or restraining in some way. This usually leaves a bruise or other mark.
While identifying physical harassment is obviously more straightforward, here are some examples:
- An individual seeks to keep you in a room or other space against your will, using physical threats or violence to intimidate you into doing what they want.
- What starts as play fighting escalates into physical contact.
In some industries, physical harassment is unfortunately more common. Service industries have a higher rate of harassment, especially physical harassment. This is because they are dealing with the public, at large, in a way that immediately places them in an inferior position to the client.
It’s also important to understand that risk-factors can stem from the types of clientelle a service sector company is serving:
- Public transit drivers are subject to the actions of whomever steps on their bus, shuttle or train.
- Social service workers interact with a segment of the population that is generally financially disenfranchised, or experiencing and extreme hardship in their life.
- Public utility workers can come into contact with customers that are desperate to keep their services turned on, even if they’re facing a financial difficulty.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
This, unfortunately, is a common type of harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment can involve both verbal and physical acts. Most often perpetrated by a male, females can also be the perpetrator.
While many types of sexual harassment are easily identified, I’ve highlighted a few examples below:
- Having an uncomfortable and persistent sexual conversation
- Making sexual statements about an individual’s body parts or clothing
- Sending a text/email which is sexually suggestive
- Implications that someone slept their way to the top, or offering to enhance someone’s career by engaging in sexual activity.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is the most common type of harassment in the modern workplace. This is where a superior hints, or overtly demands sexual favors in return for advancement in the organization. An example of this is how Bill O’Reilly seduced females at Fox News with offers to help them with their career – this was allegedly part of his closing technique after treating a female panelist or contributor to dinner.
No, please, not another HR seminar!
During my time in corporate america I experienced the onslaught of feckless HR seminars designed to curtail harassment of all kinds in the workplace. The presenter went through the motions, read from the HR manual and forced some of the attendees to take part in an awkward skit or two.
The reality is that companies need to do a better job of reaching both employees and customers in a more engaging way when discussing harassment issues. Interactive HR training is a start – reaching employees where they are most comfortable exploring these topics – in private.
All five types of workplace harassment we’ve discussed today aren’t the only types of bullying behavior that organizations should be aware of. While it’s not always possible to watch everyone’s behavior, gestures and attitude in the workplace, employers can provide workplace harassment training for their employee either online or on campus. They can provide interactive tools to help reinforce training, and create better protocols designed to protect both employees and customers.