It seems like a new business issue involving workplace harassment makes the news every week. When it is discovered that they handled the harassment concerns improperly, neglected them, or failed to identify them, these businesses not only suffer a negative reputation but frequently also suffer financial consequences.

For instance, in September 2022, an IHOP franchisee was required to pay $125,000 to resolve a sexual harassment claim brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Two teenage female employees, at least, were allegedly repeatedly subjected to graphic sexual remarks, unwanted touching, and “conditioning employment actions on responses to the [male] manager’s sexual propositions,” according to the lawsuit. The franchisee apparently knew about this behavior but did nothing to discipline the manager, which resulted in the workers’ termination.

harassment types

The franchisee must also put new harassment and discrimination rules into effect, enhance training reporting processes, and manage complaints with the help of a third-party investigator.

You must deal with harassment before it becomes a significant problem if you don’t want to deal with penalties, lawsuits, replacing staff, negative coverage, or the stress of a scandal.

You will be able to recognize 11 of the most typical forms of workplace harassment at the end of this tutorial, as well as any potential overlaps. In addition, we’ve got three professional harassment prevention pointers to help you safeguard your company’s workers.

harassment types


The nature of all illegal workplace harassment is discriminatory. Discriminatory harassment is defined by its objectives rather than how it is carried out, unlike verbal or physical harassment.

In this instance, the victim is the target of bullying because they, at least in part, belong to a protected class. Sex/gender, age, race, religion, color, national origin, and physical and mental aptitude are among the protected categories.

The next paragraphs go into further detail on the more prevalent and recognizable types of discriminatory harassment.

Racial discrimination

Racial harassment can happen to a victim due to their ethnicity, skin tone, ancestry, place of origin, or citizenship.

Even perceived ethnic characteristics (such as hair texture, skin tone, dialect, food, use of particular slang or other terminology, habits, beliefs, festivals or festivities, or clothes) may be to blame. Racial harassment frequently manifests as:

  • Using offensive language in general or against the victim
  • Remarks that are derogatory or insulting to the victim’s race or to all races
  • The dissemination of racist “memes,” jokes, or pictures
  • Putting on an offensive persona when around the victim (such as refusing to share a cubicle or being repulsed by the victim’s lunchtime cultural foods).
  • Indifference to diversity

Gender-based violence

Harassment on the basis of gender expression is known as gender-based harassment. Employees who identify as cisgender (those whose gender identity matches that to which they were born), transgender (transgender men or women), non-binary, or two-spirited are all susceptible.

The root of harassment is frequently unfavorable gender expectations about how men and women should behave or seem. Several instances include:

  • Because he holds what is seen as a woman’s position, a male nurse experiences harassment.
  • A female banker who is not “leader material” is passed over for a promotion.
  • A male coworker shows products that are offensive to women, such as comic books, posters, and screen savers.
  • A coworker calls a non-binary person “it”
  • In one email, a transgender male is addressed as “she”.

Religious Discrimination

While racial harassment and religious harassment are frequently related, the latter focuses explicitly on the victim’s religious convictions.

A person whose faith deviates from the “norm” of the workplace may experience harassment or intolerance there in a number of ways, including:

  • intolerance of religious celebrations
  • Indifference to religious customs
  • Indifference to religious practices
  • cruel jokes about religion
  • snide, stereotyped remarks
  • Religious conversion pressure

Ability-Based Discrimination

Ability-based harassment is a form of workplace bullying that targets people who:

  • Live with a handicap (either physical or mental) themself Know someone or more who has a disability
  • Utilize disability services (such as workers’ compensation or sick leave)
  • A person with a handicap could encounter harassment in the form of hurtful jokes, condescending remarks, denials of reasonable accommodations, or social exclusion.

Sexually Motivated Harassment

Although it can look very different, sexual orientation-based harassment is governed by the same laws as sex-based harassment. Because they have a different sexual orientation from those around them, they experience harassment.

Depending on their line of employment, people of any sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay, bisexual, asexual, etc.) may encounter this type of harassment.

For instance, a heterosexual male can be made fun of for working in a salon, whereas a homosexual man would experience harassment on a construction site.

Harassment based on age

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act expressly protects workers 40 years of age and older to encourage older workers and lessen harassment based on their age.

A victim of age-based harassment could be:

  • Ridiculed and teased, particularly when using age-based stereotypes
  • Dismissed from social interactions, initiatives, or gatherings
  • Unfairly blamed for having less expertise in a certain field

Unfortunately, there are situations when this pestering is an attempt to forcibly force the person into early retirement. If done to a younger worker, it could demoralize them to the point where they switch teams or perhaps employers.


Workplace harassment that isn’t based on a protected class (including race, gender, or religion) is known as personal harassment. It frequently targets some aspect of the victim’s job, attitude, or appearance, but it can also be more general behavior that irritates the victim, like cracking an inappropriate joke.

Simply said, it is bullying in its most fundamental form. Even while it isn’t strictly prohibited, it can nonetheless be harmful.

Personal Harassment Examples

  • Inappropriate or impolite remarks
  • Unsavory jokes
  • Individual humiliation
  • Comments that are too harsh
  • Ostracizing conduct
  • Intimidating behavior

Or any other action that makes the victim’s workplace frightening and unfriendly. Not the other person’s intentions with their behavior, but if the victim felt harassed is what matters most.


Physical threats or assaults at work constitute physical harassment, often known as workplace violence. Physical intimidation could, in some situations, be considered an assault.

Physical actions like joking elbowing or a little shoulder punch might muddy the lines between what is and isn’t acceptable. The decision as to whether the behavior is unpleasant rests with the individual receiving it.

Physical harassment should be treated seriously in the workplace and thoroughly covered in codes of conduct and rules in order to more precisely define that border.

Physical Harassment Examples

  • Direct threats made with the aim to damage
  • Attacks made physically (kicking, beating, shoving)
  • Threatening actions (including threatening fist-shaking)
  • Wrecking things to intimidate

Sectors at Risk

Workers in particular industries are more likely to experience workplace violence. These include people who work in the medical field, law enforcement officers, social service providers, educators, retail personnel, and drivers of public transportation. Physical harassment at work is more likely to happen to people who work late into the night, live in rural or remote places, or who work alone.


A typical type of workplace harassment known as “power harassment” is characterized by an imbalance of power between the harasser and the victim.

By intimidating a victim who is lower on the office ladder, the harasser shows off their dominance. The harasser is frequently a manager or supervisor who targets their employees.

Power-based harassment examples

There are many different behaviors that can constitute power harassment. It might take the shape of physical acts of violence or verbal intimidation.

It’s frequently psychological. The victim is the target of the harasser:

  • Unreasonable expectations that are impossible to fulfill
  • Low expectations that are much above what the individual can handle
  • Intrusion into the personal life of the employee
  • Making them complete tasks that are not related to their position (such as personal chores, long hours, or sexual favors)


A person’s psychological health is harmed by psychological harassment. Psychological harassment victims frequently experience feelings of inferiority and belittling on personal, professional, or both levels.

When a victim’s psychological and mental health is damaged, it frequently has a cascading effect on their physical health, social life, and professional life.

Psychological Harassment Examples

  • Excluding, Isolating, or Denying the presence of the victim
  • Insulting or Trivializing the victim’s opinions or thoughts
  • Spreading false information about the victim
  • Arguing against or Disputing anything the victim says
  • Victim being gaslighted
  • Fostering a situation at work that is too hostile or competitive


Employers are adopting new technology to attract younger workers and gain from a globally connected internet. For instance, instant messaging programs with user-friendly interfaces like Slack and Workplace by Meta offer convenience and speed.

There may be a drawback to this digital world, though.

Typical Online Harassment Instances

Employers should take this form of harassment, often known as cyberbullying, very seriously. In addition to numerous other things, cyberbullies might:

  • Send out demeaning emails or chat messages to the victim
  • Spread false information about the victim online
  • Send the victim obscene text messages or instant messages.

Internet bullying laws

48 states will have internet harassment laws that specifically include cyberbullying by the year 2021. These statutes include criminal penalties in 44 of those states. To find out more about the laws in your state, look at this map.


Retaliation harassment, more commonly known as retaliation, is a frequently disregarded kind of workplace harassment. Retaliation occurs when someone harasses another person in an effort to exact vengeance or deter the victim from acting inappropriately in the future.

This could be in response to anything, such as the victim reporting the harasser for something (such as fraud, unethical activity, or other forms of harassment) or the harasser being promoted instead of the victim.

Any sort of harassment, whether physical, psychological, emotional, or even sexual harassment, can be used as retaliation.

What Does Harassment in Retaliation Look Like?

This kind of harassment often consists of three elements:

  • Judy complains to the police about Michelle.
  • Michelle learns who filed the complaint and what it was about.
  • In an effort to exact retribution and discourage Judy from making more complaints, Michelle harasses her.

In this instance, Michelle would be intimidating Judy as payback.


Sexual harassment is defined as harassment that has a sexual undertone and typically includes unwanted overtures, behavior, or behavior. The victim may feel it to be unacceptable behavior in general or behavior that is directed at them specifically.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a kind of unlawful discrimination, and the courts take it seriously even though it’s unpleasant at any time or place.

Sexual harassment often causes discomfort and has a negative influence on the victim’s life right once, but other sorts of harassment may require time and growing severity to make the victim’s workplace unfriendly.

Sexual Harassment Examples

  • The dissemination of pornographic images
  • Sexually explicit posters
  • Improper or unwelcome sexual contact
  • Unwelcome or inappropriate sexual gestures
  • Violating a person’s privacy in a sexual manner
  • Asking sexual questions, making sexual jokes, or making sexual remarks

How Serious of a Problem Is Sexual Harassment?

More than one-fourth of all harassment complaints received by the EEOC are for workplace sexual harassment. Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia are the states with the most of these accusations, according to the agency.

According to a survey, 44% of adults have encountered harassment at work, and 38% of those incidents involved sexual harassment. Sexual harassment remains underreported and under-investigated, despite the MeToo movement’s heightened focus on the problem. This is because of fear, shame, and poisonous workplace cultures.


Quid pro quo, which translates to “this for that,” is a form of sexual harassment based on trade.

The harasser, who is frequently a manager or senior-level employee, may offer something beneficial in exchange for a sexual favor in this circumstance.

Blackmail is another term for the quid pro quo method of harassment. Consider the scenario where Ashley pretended to be sick and her manager Rick caught her out shopping while he was getting an afternoon coffee. If Ashley declines to go on a date with Rick, Rick may threaten to inform HR about the fabrication.

Illustrations of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Assault

What does “harassing someone quid pro quo” look like? The victim might have provided romantic or sexual services in return for:

  • Obtain a job offer.
  • Getting promoted
  • Get a pay increase
  • Obtain chances (e.g., better projects, more vacation time)
  • Get additional special treatment
  • A workplace investigation should be avoided (as stated above).
  • Avoid being demoted
  • Do not terminate

Paid for by There are two types of sexual harassment: explicit and implicit. It’s possible for the harasser to directly request the trade or to only imply it (“Don’t you want this job?”).


Workplace harassment that is committed by a “third party”—someone outside the organization—is known as third-party harassment. The culprit is a vendor, supplier, customer, or client of the business rather than a boss, supervisor, or coworker.

Any of the aforementioned forms of harassment may be included in this conduct.

Who Becomes a Target of Third-Party Harassment?

People who experience this kind of harassment frequently work in “low-status” or “low-power” positions (such as cashiers, desk clerks, or sales representatives).

These workers frequently struggle to make ends meet while seeking to advance in their jobs. They are exposed due to their standing in the organization, their inexperience, and their reluctance to raise a disturbance (and risk being perceived as dramatic or “troublemakers”). Third-party harassment is still under-recognized because it doesn’t match the normal narrative. No matter who the harasser is, you should make an effort to protect your employees while they are at work.

Employers may occasionally also be held vicariously liable for third-party harassment. According to employment attorney Brian L. McDermott, “Working conditions are not only affected by employees, but also by third parties, and employers do not have the ability to control the actions of their customers or vendors.” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to provide their employees with nondiscriminatory working conditions.

Employers are responsible for third-party harassment if they ‘unreasonably fail to take necessary corrective action reasonably likely to prevent the misconduct from reoccurring.’ Chertoff, 517 F.3d 974, 984 (7th Cir. 2008), Lapka v.


Personality issues at work that have progressed beyond the casual eye roll might lead to verbal harassment.

Verbal abuse is frequently not a crime, unlike discriminating forms of harassment (like racial harassment). Instead, verbal harassment happens when someone acts unflinchingly nasty or unfavorably toward others, particularly when such behavior is directed at their coworkers.

This is why verbal abuse may be especially harmful because it may go unrecognized and unanswered.

Illustrative cases of verbal abuse

Publicly or privately, obvious verbal harassing actions include:

  • Threatening
  • Yelling Insulting
  • Cursing Intimidating Criticizing

Any of these remarks that are directed towards someone who belongs to a protected class because of that membership are illegal.

Consequences of Verbal Abuse

An expert on workplace bullying named Dr. Gary Namie discovered patterns in the detrimental impacts of verbal abuse at work. According to him, encountering:

  • Guilt and feelings of humiliation
  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Negative fixation with work even on days off physical symptoms of high blood pressure


The next step is to put a halt to the many forms of harassment that are pervasive in the workplace. I’ll list three ways.

harassment types

1. Develop, revise, and/or implement your policy

Use any verb that applies to your policy.

Make a policy if you don’t already have one. We’ve put together a free template for you to use as a starting point.

Update your harassment policy if you do have one but it’s outdated. For ideas, look at these instances from leading corporations.

If your policy is in place but nobody is aware of it or cares, you should enforce it.

Employees won’t have any excuse not to follow a solid, transparent policy that is up-to-date with best practices and is enforced. However, if there is no clear indication of what is right and wrong, anarchy is inevitable.

2. Develop Your Team

Your staff should receive training on what harassment is, how to spot it, and how to report it. They might not be aware that their actions could be viewed as harassment! A list of acceptable and inappropriate behaviors could deter potential offenders and motivate victims to come forward.

Establish, Improve, or Resurrect Your Internal Complaint System
Training and policy can only go so far.

An internal complaint mechanism can give employees a sense of security and support by complementing your policy and stepping in when it is insufficient.

They might not come forward unless you establish a proper complaint process that respects the victim’s rights to secrecy and safety from retaliation. The absence of assistance may be worse for victims than the harassment they currently experience since they will be afraid of the potential retribution.

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