Harassment in the Workplace

November 11 2014

By Julia Richardson – We often hear the phrase “harassment in the workplace” with little thought as to what it actually means and the legal ramifications.

Generally speaking, harassment in the workplace could be verbal or physical harassment and if based on sex, race or religion and is both unlawful and discrimination.

Any unwelcome or discriminatory conduct is considered to be harassment by law when it is such a problem that it has a negative impact on the working environment. If a supervisor is the one who is doling out the harassment that has the result of an obvious change to salary of an employee or their status then this is also considered to be unlawful workplace harassment.


Types of Harassment

  • Sex
  • Gender or Gender Identity
  • Religion
  • Race
  • Skin Color
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Physical or Mental Disability
  • Age

While harassment is a form of workplace discrimination, discrimination is not always harassment. Because it is categorized under workplace discrimination, however, harassment in the workplace violates several federal laws.

The workplace harassment that can take place is not limited to just sexual harassment and it also doesn’t preclude to same-gender harassment. It can be about any kind of personal characteristic and takes place between two people. This includes co-workers, managers, or even between non-employees such as clients, contractors or vendors. The victim doesn’t even have to be the target of the harassment; it could be anyone that has been affected by the offending behavior.

Types of Sexual Harassment

There are several ways in which sexual harassment in the workplace can manifest. The following list includes common areas of sexual harassment.

  • Hostile Work Environment
  • Quid Pro Quo
  • Pregnancy Based Harassment
  • Sexual Assault
  • Retaliation Related Sexual Harassment


Additionally, if an employer is notified of an offense and fails to correct it or take the appropriate behavior to eliminate the source of the harassment, he or she (or the company as a whole) may be liable for their failure.


Quid Pro Quo vs. Hostile Work Environment

Sexual harassment typically falls under two categories under harassment laws: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment. Quid pro quo refers to sexual harassment that involves an exchange of sexual favors. An example of this would be a raise or promotion being granted on the basis of a sex act—however big or small.

Hostile work environment sexual harassment claims are those that do not involve the exchange of sexual favors, but that include verbal harassment involving sex or lewd comments directed at an employee. An example of this would be an employee being subjected to sexual comments at work.

During the Job Interview

You don’t have to be hired in order to file a harassment claim. Did you know that harassment could also take place during a job interview? This happens when you are harassed based on one of the above traits. If a potential employer offers you on a job, on the condition of sexual advances, it is harassment. Similarly, lewd comments or inappropriate behavior you may be subjected to throughout the job interview process.

According to some estimates, there are as many as 14,000 reported cases of harassment in the workplace each year on the federal level, with at least half of all women report having experienced sexual harassment. Federal law covers harassment, but state-level harassment laws vary from state to state. In some states, for example, harassment based upon sexual orientation may not be explicitly illegal. For this reason, it is important to review your state’s workplace harassment and discrimination laws.

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