What’s the difference between harassment and sexual harassment?

You may have to deal with a situation at work where harassment or sexual harassment come up. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, it’s vital that you have an understanding about the differences between the two.

In an office setting, or in any kind of workplace, sexual harassment and other forms are possible. Here’s more information each of the main types, so you can recognize harassment in all its forms.

Non-sexual harassment/harassment

To start with, there are a few kinds of harassment that don’t involve sexual actions. For example, someone could repeatedly mock someone for their religion or race, and that would constitute harassment (and possibly also discrimination) in the workplace.

Harassment, at its core, is any unwelcome or unlawful conduct that insults, demeans or offends an employee. There are different types, like verbal harassment or physical harassment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act aim to reduce harassment in the workplace and protect people in certain classes against it. For example, it’s illegal to harass someone based on their:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Gender identification
  • Genetic information
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Color

Since harassment may include verbal or physical behaviors, any kind of offensive jokes, name-calling, bullying, physical assault, threats or uses of intimidation should be reported immediately.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is different because it specifically means there have been unwanted sexual advances, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or even requests for sexual favors that have created an offensive or hostile work environment. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination.

Sexual harassment doesn’t have to involve a man and a woman. Anyone can harass anyone else, whether it’s a coworker, non-employee, employer or other party in the workplace.

To be considered as sexual harassment, there is one additional factor. The advances have to be unwelcomed. If so, then the victim should file a complaint through their employer or the grievance system that is in place.

Understanding harassment can help people recognize it, stop it and create a better work environment. If you’re harassed on the job in any way, know that you have rights. If you’re employer, you need to take action to stop harassment in its tracks.


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