As defined by a government website, harassment in any way is a form of discrimination. This practice is unlawful as stipulated in the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to this law, any unwelcome verbal or physical conduct against a person on the basis of one’s race, color, religion, national origin, mental or physical disability, sex (which includes same-gender harassment and gender identity harassment), sexual orientation, or retaliation is a form of harassment.
How Can One Say That He or She is harassed in the Workplace?
One person can claim that he or she has suffered from harassment in the workplace if:
- One person’s conduct is severe or pervasive enough to promote a hostile work environment; or
- The harassing conduct of a supervisor causes a tangible change in an employee’s employment status or benefits. For example, one gets demoted, is deprived of a chance to get promoted, or worse, terminated from work.
When does the work environment become hostile?
In cases where a person’s unwelcome comments or conduct that are based on one’s race, color, religion, national origin, mental or physical disability, sex, and sexual orientation unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance. This creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment that is not conducive for productivity and well being of the victim. Contrary to popular belief, anybody, not just the supervisors and officers of a company can commit this type of harassment. The culprit can be a high-ranking management officer, a simple co-worker, even non-employees like contractors, vendors, and guests of the company.
The victim likewise can be anybody that has been affected because of the said conduct, not just the individual whom the offensive conduct has been directed.
What are the actions or gesture that can create a hostile environment in the workplace?
There are many things that one can do that constitute harassment and promote a hostile environment in a workplace. These include:
- Leering (i.e. staring in a sexually suggestive manner)
- Making offensive remarks about one’s looks, clothing, or mentioning body parts in a suggestive manner
- Patting, pinching, or intentional brushing against an employee’s body in a way that they feel uncomfortable,
- Delivery of sexual jokes, hanging and display of sexual posters, or making sexual gestures
- Sending of letters, notes, e-mails, or images that are sexually suggestive
However, harassment may not always be sexual in nature. There are non-sexual acts that constitute harassment such as:
- Racist remarks and use of derogatory words, phrases, or epithets
- The demonstration of gestures, pictures that are offensive or derogatory to one particular race or ethnic group
- Making derogatory comments about one’s skin color, or characteristics about his or her race and ethnicity
- Making fun of one’s gender even if it is not sexual in nature
- Poking fun of one’s religious beliefs or the lack of it
- Stereotyping one person based on his or her birthplace and ancestry
- Age jokes especially with people aged 40 and over
- Making fun of one’s mental or physical impairment
More than committing the above-mentioned acts, actions that affects one’s employment status can also be considered as harassment. The hiring, firing, promotion, failure to promote, demotion, as well as disciplinary actions like suspension, sudden and undesirable assignment, the change or lessening of benefits, decisions about compensation and work assignment can also be a great indicator of harassment.
Protecting yourself from harassment
Knowing what to do if you ever become a victim of discrimination is just half of the battle. To be able to protect yourself from being harassed in the workplace, you should know what and when harassment and discrimination happens. This way, you will be able to react properly and do the necessary actions to fight for your rights. Through proper education about harassment, people will be able to stay away and better fight harassment and discrimination in the workplace.