5 Types of Workplace Harassment and How to Avoid Them

August 21, 2018

If you’ve spent any time watching the news lately, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sexual harassment is at the forefront of discussion about the workplace. What you may not know, however, is that harassment is not limited to sexual misconduct. Be aware of these five types of workplace harassment and ways to avoid them.

1. Physical Harassment

As its name suggests, physical harassment is any sort of aggressive, unwanted physical contact with another employee. This type of harassment should be obviously identifiable and mitigated immediately. While the legal trouble of physical assault can be a nightmare, it is even more important to protect your company’s greatest assets: your employees. Physical harassment can seriously harm members of your staff and its aftermath can create an environment in which employees are uneasy or fearful.

2. Hostile Environment Harassment

Unlike physical harassment, instances of a hostile environment are often less obviously identified. The US Department of Labor defines hostile work environment harassment as the result of workplace interactions that render the “workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.” This type of harassment is the summation of many smaller instances of harassment such as vulgar language or gestures, demeaning terms directed toward the victim, or sabotaging the victim’s work, all of which significantly hinder the victim’s ability to perform their job. This misconduct can inhibit the victim’s job performance and create a workplace environment that is uncomfortable for other employees.

3. Power Harassment

Similar to a hostile environment, power harassment can sometimes be difficult to detect, but it is just as damaging to your employees and the work environment overall. Power harassment occurs when a employee abuses their power over a subordinate. This could be anything ranging from excessive demands beyond the scope of their position to demeaning tasks far below their skill set and job description. While it may be necessary at times for an employee to complete an extraneous task for their superior, a pattern of this behavior could signify an abuse of their authority. This type of harassment is especially important to be aware of because you, as the employer, could be liable for damages according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

4. Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is the type of misconduct most people are aware of, but you may not know all of the behaviors that fall under this category. Sexual harassment consists of any unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors (i.e. quid pro quo), and any other verbal or physical behaviors of a sexual nature. However, sexual harassment is not limited to lascivious behaviors; it can also consist of any misconduct targeting a specific sex. According to the EEOC, “offensive remarks about a person’s sex” can be considered sexual harassment.

5. Retaliation

One of the primary reasons it is vital to have human resource strategies for handling workplace misconduct is because of another form of harassment: retaliation. Retaliation is a form of harassment that follows an initial report. If Employee A files a complaint against Employee B, then Employee B acts out against Employee A, retaliation has occurred. Whether it is pure anger or an attempt to force the victim to drop their complaint, retaliation against a victim of workplace harassment is illegal.

Avoiding Workplace Harassment

Each of these types of harassment can mean serious legal trouble, not to mention the physical or emotional damage suffered by the victim. It is vital that your business has the proper human resource programs for avoiding these situations. Be sure that your employees know who the specific HR professional is at your company so they know who they can direct complaints to.

It is important that any complaints be quickly and efficiently handled. If your employees know that harassment in the workplace is taken seriously, they will be less likely to commit acts of harassment and more likely to report them if they do occur.

If your business does not currently have systems in place for the management and prevention of workplace harassment, consider HR outsourcing. From developing an employee handbook to job tracking, trust the experts at Commonwealth Payroll & HR to ensure that your employees have the safest work environment possible. Call us today at 877-245-1159 to take your next steps.

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