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Types of Harassment in the Workplace


On average, people continually employed spend approximately 100,000 hours at work during their adult lives. Harassment in the workplace for any portion of that time is both illegal and detrimental to productivity, efficiency, and morale.


The word “harass” is defined as, “to annoy continually; to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for esp. by one’s verbal or physical conduct.” “Harassment” is the noun form. The ability to determine what is harassment versus corrective criticism by supervisors is critical for both employees and employers.

Types of Harassment

Several types of harassment can exist in the general workplace. Targeted behavior or comments that are detrimental to mentally, emotionally, or physically safe work environments might be harassment, based on the following criteria:

Sexual Harassment. The most common type found, sexual harassment is most often directed toward women, but it does cross gender lines. Both males and females can be either victim or instigator. Unwanted comments regarding anatomy, appearance, and solicitation of sexually intimate behavior and actual physical contact constitute sexual harassment. Voiced or implied threats surrounding work conditions, continued employment, or advancement in the organization if sexual contact is not granted is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is the most common type found in the workplace.

Racial. Whether toward an individual or a group, detrimental comments or actions regarding race constitutes harassment. Examples include race comparisons of ability, education or intelligence, appearance, or inferiority.

Ethnic/National Origin. Very similar to racial harassment, the detrimental behavior is targeted to ethnic groups or individuals regardless of skin color.

Religious. Negative comments or behavior regarding a particular religious faith, credo, or practice.

Age. Unfortunately, harassment and discrimination regarding age, particularly older employees, has increased.

Disability. Negative comments or behavior towards an individual or group that are differently abled. Comments can be regarding special procedures or allowances or the right to work.

Marital Status. Any marital status-single, divorced, widowed, or domestic partnership-can be harassment, if protected by legal statute.

Language. The employee’s ability or inability to speak English has become a protected category. The right to work does not depend on the language spoken but in the legal authority through either citizenship or legal alien status with a work visa.

Whistle-Blower. Relatively new to a protected status, no detrimental action can be taken against someone, because he or she reports a business or individual within a business environment of wrongful acts. That retaliatory action or behavior constitutes harassment.

Verbal. While all harassment can be verbal, this “other” category specifically pertains to verbal harassment not included in the above categories. Verbal abuse or harassment can entail constant, detrimental comments meant to degrade someone else, often a co-worker, with the intent of belittlement or reduction in self- or public esteem.

Key Elements

The two key elements in any type of harassment are “unwanted” and “continued” behavior. If no one requests stopping the behavior or comments or if the behavior does not continue, legally no harassment of any type exists. Single instances or comments toward an individual or group may be in bad taste and show poor judgment, but they do not constitute harassment in the workplace.


Expert Opinion

Quote:   “Any pattern of behavior that based on gender that causes an employee discomfort may constitute sexual harassment.”

Source: Michael G. Aamodt   Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Wadsworth Publishing

Quote: “As with any sexual harassment plaintiff, locking down the plaintiff’s testimony early in the case serves the essential function of preventing the plaintiff from adding-to, fabricating, or ‘remembering’ new types of harassment as the law suit progresses.”

Source:  Litigating the Sexual Harassment Case  Matthew B. Schiff, Linda C. Kramer, American Bar Association. Tort and Insurance Practice Section



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“Harassment.” US EEOC Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 June 2010. <>

Merriam, Websters. Websters Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. 9Rev Ed ed. Springfield: Merriam-Webster+ Inc, 2009. Print. 

Appleby, Gavin S.. Harassment and Discrimination: And Other Workplace Landmines (Entrepreneur Legal Guides). 1 ed. Irvine, CA: Entrepreneur Press, 2007. Print.

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