It’s impossible to keep watch over what all your employees are doing every hour of the workday – especially when every employee has their own idea of what professional behavior in the workplace looks like.
That’s why, unfortunately, even the sharpest and most seasoned HR officer can miss the signs of harassment in the workplace. What makes spotting it even more challenging is the way the EEOC defines workplace harassment – a ‘hostile work environment’ can be difficult for an HR professional to identify, and it can be even more challenging for employees to spot.
Here are three common types of harassment, as well as some practical advice on harassment in the workplace.
1. Verbal and Written Harassment
Verbal or written harassment is common, and it’s probably also one of the most obvious forms of harassment in the workplace.
The most apparent verbal or written harassment behaviors include sending emails with offensive graphics or discriminatory jokes and continuously pestering someone about sexual favors or going on dates via text or in person. Mocking someone’s accent or making negative comments about someone’s age or disability are also classed as visual and verbal harassment.
However, other verbal and written harassment behaviors may be less obvious – like asking about a person’s genetic disorders, family history of illnesses, and hereditary conditions.
Technology is often used to commit verbal or visual harassment, which often leads to it circulating in the office, even though the original sender had not intended anyone else to see it. An example would be a discriminatory joke or image about race or religion forwarded via email and then circulated.
2. Physical Harassment
Physical harassment can be more challenging to recognize because it can be subtle in nature and is often more difficult to prove.
Acts of physical harassment include unwanted touching, standing too close and deliberately invading someone’s personal space, making sexually suggestive gestures and facial expressions, or subjecting someone to degrading or offensive music or language.
Even if physical harassment is not directed toward one particular person, it is still harassment. An example would be if two employees are talking and making inappropriate hand gestures and someone else witnesses it – making the person who saw it feel uncomfortable or harassed.
3. Visual Harassment
Visual harassment is probably the most difficult type to recognize because it requires considering another person’s view and is often subjective.
The most obvious acts of visual harassment include watching pornographic or violent videos, showing someone a sexually suggestive email or text message, and creating or drawing derogatory or violent pictures. Displaying pictures or posters that are sexual in nature and wearing clothing with vulgar or offensive images or language also fall under visual harassment.
For example, imagine a coworker has a comic strip at their desk. While most people find the comic strip humorous, others may find it highly offensive and claim it creates a hostile work environment.
What to Do About Workplace Harassment
Employers should adopt a strategy to reduce workplace harassment. This strategy should include putting a zero-tolerance harassment policy and procedures in place, providing training about harassment for employees, and setting up a robust internal reporting channel.
If you are experiencing harassment in your workplace, consulting with an experienced lawyer will help you determine whether you have a case and dictate what steps you can take.