Workplace Harassment: What You Need to Know

Recently, matters of workplace harassment have gained national interest and it is becoming one of the most sensitive areas of effective workplace management.  

What is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment can include behavior that is belittling, threatening, cajoling, and/or retaliatory in nature, exhibited toward workers in certain circumstances.  Harassing behavior can be based on gender, race, disability, national origin, religious beliefs, but often falls under the category of sexual harassment.

Two Types of Workplace Harassment

According to the Department of Labor, there are essentially two types of workplace harassment.

Quid pro quo harassment generally results in a tangible employment decision based upon the employee's acceptance or rejection of unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, but it can also result from unwelcome conduct that is of a religious nature. This kind of harassment is generally committed by someone who can effectively make or recommend formal employment decisions (such as termination, demotion, or denial of promotion) that will affect the victim.


  • Supervisor who fires or denies promotion to a subordinate for refusing to engage in or submit to sexual behavior.
  • Supervisor requires a subordinate to participate in religious activities as a condition of employment
  • Supervisor offers preferential treatment/promotion if subordinate sexually cooperates or joins supervisor's religion

A hostile environment can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.

Examples of behaviors that may contribute to an unlawful hostile environment include:

  • Discussing sexual activities
  • Telling off-color jokes concerning race, sex, disability, or other protected bases;
  • Unnecessary touching
  • Commenting on physical attributes
  • Displaying sexually suggestive or racially insensitive pictures
  • Using demeaning or inappropriate terms or epithets
  • Using indecent gestures
  • Using crude language
  • Sabotaging the victim's work
  • Engaging in hostile physical conduct

What is Not Workplace Harassment?

Behaviors that are not considered harassment are those that arise from a relationship of mutual consent. A hug between friends, mutual flirtation, and a compliment on physical appearance between colleagues are not considered harassment.  Moreover, the alleged harassment must stem from factors that distinguish the victim from others in the workplace, such as the victim’s sex, race, religion, or disability.

Intellectual disagreements related to academic freedom are also not considered harassment.

The management and discipline of employees is also not harassment. Legitimate requirements to comply with rules or standards—such as requests to meet dress codes, deadlines, employee performance standards, attendance requirements—are not considered harassment.

What Should I Do if I Think I Am the Victim of Workplace Harassment?

Even though you may have been a victim of harassment, recovering damages can be a long and difficult process. Fortunately, the law allows victims to retain experienced and dedicated employment attorneys to represent their legal interests. If you think you have been the victim of workplace harassment, please call Kelly Reed and her team at 304-292-2020, to schedule a free consultation.