How to identify and respond to workplace harassment

Enjoying what you do can contribute to your sense of well-being. Unfortunately, not all employers provide a healthy environment for their employees. For some people, going to work means facing unkind comments and inappropriate treatment from their coworkers or bosses. If you face a hostile work environment, you may wonder how to classify the behavior you are experiencing.

 

Sexual harassment vs. discriminatory harassment

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, sexual harassment involves unwanted sexual overtures, requests for sexual acts, unwanted physical contact, and any other undesired contact of a sexual nature. Discriminatory or nonsexual harassment is unwanted or offensive behavior directed toward a person because of his or her race, gender, age, disability, religious beliefs, national origin, color of skin, sexual orientation, genetics, or because the person is a parent.

If someone makes a joke about your gender, that is considered discriminatory harassment, not sexual harassment. Discriminatory harassment could also be a coworker remarking you only got your job to fill a quota. Basically, any behavior that creates a hostile work environment may be considered harassment.

Harassment can be subtle

Sexual harassment does not have to be someone hitting on you, or touching you in an inappropriate manner. It can be subtler. Maybe a coworker sends you a sexually explicit email or text message. Perhaps your boss persistently brushes up against you and it makes you feel uncomfortable. Any of these behaviors may be viewed as sexual harassment.

The big distinction for harassment is that you get to decide whether behavior feels inappropriate. The person who is harassing you does not decide what does or does not constitute appropriate behavior in the workplace.

If you are facing workplace harassment, your office should have a system in place to handle such matters. However, these systems do not always work. If your accusation does not cause any changes in behavior, you may consider contacting an attorney experienced in handling workplace harassment.

 

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