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What Is the Definition of Workplace Harassment?


Harassment can be defined as, “Unwanted and continued physical or verbal abuse of a person or people of a legally protected status and based upon the criteria for the protected status.” For example, an Asian American is harassed because of his race or ethnic origin; a Muslim is harassed because of her religion. The former example displays racial harassment, and the latter example portrays religious harassment.

Types of Conduct

In order for someone-male or female-to harass another, the conduct must be unwanted and continued. A single comment or a solitary action may well be irritating but does not constitute harassment. The behavior must pertain to a protected status under the law, but it isn’t limited to harasser and victim. Anyone who is exposed to the unwanted behavior is a victim of harassment.

Harassment can be verbal or physical-an action such as unwanted physical contact whether sexually based or not. The physical act must be deliberate; accidentally bumping into someone around a blind corner is not harassment. Physical abuse can legally be considered assault and battery in many jurisdictions, regardless of whether the victim suffers bumps, bruises, or cuts.

Harassment can be personal or general, so long as the action occurs regularly and repeatedly. Verbal examples are, “People that old should be in nursing homes-not on an assembly line” or “Pregnant women don’t belong at work.”

Physical Harassment

Physical harassment pertains to contact-shoving, hitting, tripping, or even gentle touches. The harasser could use physical size differences to intimidate or threaten the victim. It could encompass blocking of normal passage and include intimidating comments or not.

Non-Target Victims

Regarding the exact type of harassment, the victim of harassment does not have to be the person or group being targeted. Anyone who witnesses or overhears comments derogatory to a legally protected category can be a victim. The same criteria exist with victim-as-target harassment: unwelcome and repeated instances. The non-target victim must request the behavior or comments stop, and the behavior must continue after that request.

The victim-harasser profile remains the same: male or female toward male or female, co-worker or supervisor, or employee or non-employee.


Expert Opinion

Quote:“What caused the courts to struggle the most throughout the 1970s and the 1980s is the same problem that continues to cause confusion today: there exists no legislative language or legislative history related to issues of harassment.”

Source:   Gavin S. Appleby Harassment and Discrimination: And Other Workplace Landmines

Entrepreneur Press Legal Guide Services

Quote:   “The term sexual harassment has different legal, sociological, and political meanings, depending on the content which it is used.”

Source:  Liza H. Gold M.D. Sexual Harassment: Psychiatric Assessment in Employment LitigationAmerican Psychiatric Publishing, Inc



US Department of Labor, Employment Law Guide;

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission;

CWL Publishing Enterprises, Inc.; “Harassment and Discrimination: And Other Workplace Landmines,” ©2008 Entrepreneur Press Legal Guide Services; by Gavin Appleby.

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