What is considered harassment? Definitions, Types, and Examples
17 July 2023 | 7 mins read
- Employee resources
Harassment comes in many forms, and can have a devastating impact on the lives of those who experience it – but what is considered harassment, and how do we recognize it?
There are many different types of offensive conduct that is recognized as harassment under law or in social norms. Some of these include bullying, stalking, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and physical violence.
Whether it takes the form of bullying, stalking, or unwanted sexual advances, harassment is never acceptable and must be taken seriously. Each of these types can have a negative impact on the lives of those who experience them, leaving them feeling scared and vulnerable.
To help prevent these misunderstandings, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what harassment is and is not. This article will define harassment, identify the different types of harassment, and provide examples of what can be considered harassment in various contexts.
Stay informed, stay safe, and know your rights!
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What is harassment?
The famous question: What is harassment, exactly?
While the definition of harassment may seem obvious to some, it’s often hard to describe what behaviors actually constitute harassment. Unfortunately, this lack of clarity can lead to misunderstandings and conflict between employees, employers, and customers.
In fact, over 34% of employees reported not knowing what their company considered to be harassment.
So what exactly is considered harassment?
At its core, harassment is any form of verbal or physical behavior that causes someone to feel unsafe or marginalized. There are many different types of harassment, including workplace violence, sexual harassment, discriminatory harassment, racial harassment, psychological harassment, personal harassment, cyberbullying, and stalking.
What is considered harassment by law?
When it comes to what is considered harassment by law, it generally refers to unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a pattern of repeated, unwelcome behaviors intended to annoy, threaten, or intimidate the recipient. These behaviors can be verbal, physical, or digital, and include actions such as stalking, bullying, and sexual harassment.
Various jurisdictions have laws against harassment. For example, in the United States, harassment is covered under both federal and state laws, such as Civil Rights Act of 1964 and state-specific criminal and civil harassment laws. In the UK, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provides legislation against such behaviors.
It is essential to consult legal professionals or resources specific to your jurisdiction to better understand the laws and their application.
What are the different types of harassment?
To help clarify what is and isn’t harassment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers the following definitions:
Harassment is a form of discrimination that occurs when an individual is subjected to unwelcome comments or actions that are based on their protected characteristic, such as race, gender, disability, or age.
Some of the different types of harassment include:
- Workplace violence: Any form of physical aggression or threat in the workplace, such as assault, battery, stalking, or intimidation. This could also include verbal harassment and yelling in the workplace. This type of harassment often occurs between employees, but can also involve customers and visitors to the workplace.
- Sexual harassment: Unwelcome sexual advances or sexual conduct, requests for sexual favors, offensive jokes including sexual content, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in which submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions.
- Civil harassment: Involves behavior that threatens an individual’s safety, security, and privacy. This can include stalking, cyberbullying, and repeated communications that intimidate, discriminate, or create a hostile educational environment.
- Criminal harassment: This type of harassment involves repeated communication that threatens, harasses, or harms another person.
- Religious harassment: Any form of unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on a person’s religion, such as insults, mocking comments, and jokes about religious beliefs.
- Racial harassment: Verbal or physical conduct that demeans or offends someone because of their race or ethnicity. This could include racial slurs, offensive jokes and gestures, or treating someone differently because of their race or ethnicity.
- Psychological harassment: Verbal attacks, intimidation, or threats that are intended to cause emotional distress or damage an individual’s psychological well-being. This type of harassment can include name-calling, insults, and hostile behaviors that make a person feel threatened or humiliated.
- Gender-based harassment: Any form of verbal or physical conduct that is based on an individual’s gender, and which creates a hostile or intimidating work environment. This could include jokes about one’s gender, offensive comments related to someone’s gender identity, or referring to someone by the wrong pronoun.
While the types of harassment may vary, the main goal is always to cause harm and make someone feel unsafe or marginalized.
Most common types of harassment and examples
- Domestic Violence
- Elder or Dependent Adult Abuse
- Workplace Violence or Harassment
- Sexual Harassment
- Civil Harassment
- Criminal Harassment
- Cyberbullying or Cyberstalking
Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. This type of partner on partner violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.
This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or kill another person.
Elder or Dependent Adult Abuse
The term “elder abuse” encompasses a wide range of abusive behavior towards older adults, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, and neglect.
According to The World Health Organization, elder abuse is classified as: “… a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. This type of violence constitutes a violation of human rights and includes physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.”
Elder abuse is a type of age-based harassment that is commonly seen in domestic relationships, but can also occur in institutional settings, such as nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.
Workplace Violence or Physical Harassment
The term “workplace harassment” encompasses a wide range of behavior that can be considered inappropriate or threatening in the workplace. The most common types of workplace harassment include sexual or quid pro quo harassment, moral harassment, and verbal abuse. It can include (but is not limted to) anything from verbal abuse and threats to physical violence, and can occur between co-workers, supervisors, and employees.
Workplace violence is a type of harassment that includes any physical assault or threat of physical assault that occurs in the workplace. This can include everything from threatening behavior and verbal abuse to actual physical harm.
Sexual harassment is a kind of harassment that is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that occurs in the workplace or in educational settings.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or relationship status.
It can include anything from unwelcome conduct, sexual comments and jokes to sexually explicit emails and text messages, to unwanted physical contact. This can include unwanted sexual jokes or comments about an employee’s clothing, intrusive questions about a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation, offensive gestures, use of offensive objects, and unwanted sexual behaviors and inappropriate touching in the workplace. Sexual harassment can occur between co-workers, supervisors and employees, or between students and teachers.
A common form of sexual harassment often seen in the workplace is “Quid Pro Quo” harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment, where an individual’s submission to or rejection of unwanted sexual advances is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting that individual, such as hiring, firing, promoting, or demoting them.
Civil harassment is any behavior that is not covered under criminal harassment laws, but is still considered threatening or harmful. It can include anything from stalking and cyberstalking to unwanted physical contact, and can occur between neighbors, acquaintances, or complete strangers.
An example of civil harassment is workplace bullying, which is a persistent pattern of mistreatment that can include emotional abuse and verbal abuse, as well as threats to an individual’s personal safety or career advancement.
Criminal harassment is any behavior that involves repeated acts of verbal threats or abusive comments or actions with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm another person. This type of harassment is typically considered a criminal offense and may be punishable by fines or imprisonment.
Cyberbullying or Cyberstalking
Cyberbullying and cyberstalking are forms of online harassment that take place online or through digital channels, such as social media or text messages. These behaviors can involve anything from sending harassing messages and threats to posting private information or photos without consent, and can cause significant harm to the victim’s mental health, reputation, and safety.
What to do if you’re being harassed?
If you are dealing with any of these types of harassment, it is important to seek help and support from friends, family members, or local resources in order to get the support and help that you need.
Whether it’s filing a report with your local law enforcement agency, seeking legal counsel, or reaching out to a support group for advice and guidance, there are many resources available to help you deal with harassment effectively.
Furthermore, it is also important to know your rights and take steps to protect yourself from further harm. This might include avoiding contact with the perpetrator or engaging in self-care activities like exercise and healthy eating to reduce stress and improve your overall wellbeing.
Remember, you are not alone, and there are people who can help!
Train your employees to identify harassment with real-time coaching
As a manager or employer, it is important to train your employees on how to recognize and respond to harassment in the workplace. This can be done through real-time coaching and training sessions, where employees can learn about different types of harassment, as well as strategies for dealing with these situations when they arise.
Some tips for responding to harassment include staying calm and avoiding escalating the situation, documenting the incident as much as possible, and seeking support from coworkers or family members.
Additionally, it is important to reach out for professional help if needed, such as legal or counseling resources that can assist you in navigating these difficult situations.
Konsistent fights against harassment at work
Ultimately, by taking steps to prevent harassment in the workplace, we can ensure a safer, more inclusive environment for all employees, and create a more positive and productive work culture.
Konsistent aims to prevent instances of workplace harassment by training employees to identify potential hate speech and harassment, and responding to these situations in real time. The real-time speech detection Konsistent created is able to flag any harmful speech or actions in real-time, and the feedback feature provides immediate coaching to help employees respond appropriately.
With Konsistent, your employees will be equipped with the tools they need to deal with harassment before it happens.
Whether we are dealing with sexual harassment, workplace bullying, or other forms of harassment in our personal lives or at work, it is important to take action to prevent these behaviors and get the support that we need to heal and move forward.
By learning more about the different types of harassment, as well as strategies for dealing with these situations, we can help create safer and more inclusive spaces for everyone.