Being regarded as an employer of choice begins with an environment where employees feel safe and valued. Understanding the different types of harassment is one vital element in that effort. But recognizing – and teaching your leaders to recognize – the most common types of harassment in the workplace can also protect your company from liability.
Here are the five most common types of harassment that we regularly see. While each has its own unique characteristics, they all damage a company’s culture and counteract the idea of a respectful workplace. As you read through these descriptions, think about how they might occur in your workplace and how you can train your teams to recognize and respond to each type of harassment.
Discriminatory harassment in the workplace describes a situation in which an employee feels attacked for belonging to a protected class. Federally protected classes include race, color, religion, gender, and age as well national origin, disability or veteran status.
This type of workplace harassment may also involve someone’s disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity. Discriminatory harassment can take place everywhere from the hiring process to the shop floor. If one employee makes disparaging or intimidating remarks to another based on any protected class status, your company can wind up in court.
This means if a supervisor loses patience with an older employee for not understanding technology and gives that employee fewer hours rather than providing additional training, you could find yourself in court for age discrimination.
Quid pro quo is another type of harassment in the workplace, and it’s often sexual in nature. This Latin phrase means “this for that,” and may be implied or directly stated. In most cases, it refers to someone in a position of power, such as a manager, offering an employee something in return for a sexual favor.
A supervisor may tell an employee that he’s considering her for a promotion, but will only choose her if she goes on a date with him. Quid pro quo can involve a promise of reward – or a threat of punishment.
If the quid pro quo incident is clear and sexual in nature, an employee may sue the company for creating a hostile environment that makes it difficult for him or her to perform the functions of their job.
Third party quid pro quo harassment is a separate but related type of harassment that can take place if an employer asks an employee to date a client or vendor in exchange for business or more favorable deals.
Another type of harassment is abusive conduct, or bullying. Similar to the schoolyard definition, abusive conduct happens when one team member frequently shames or belittles another employee. This type of harassment can be one of the most damaging to your respectful workplace, as it breaks down the company’s culture with a barrage of negativity.
A victim of this type of harassment regularly endures insults, condescending remarks and a generally rude tone. Abusive conduct makes the office a hostile environment where an employee may dread coming to work.
Abusive conduct is a type of harassment where severity and pervasiveness are often considered. Because the determination of abusive conduct can be very subjective in nature, detailed record-keeping is vital to proving harassment has occurred.
One type of harassment that is harder to recognize and even tougher to respond to is bystander harassment. Employees can experience bystander harassment if they’re forced to witness inappropriate behavior. That means that even though they may not be the target of the harassment, they are made to feel uncomfortable.
An example of bystander harassment is a team member sharing explicit images or discriminatory jokes with a colleague when others nearby might overhear.
It’s important that your leaders understand what bystander harassment is, and that it, too, can be very subjective in nature. If another employee is close enough to see or hear and feel uncomfortable, it is bystander harassment, and must be addressed.
The final type of harassment you need to be aware of is third-party harassment. This type of harassment happens between an employee and a non-employee. So if a delivery person – who is not an employee of your company – repeatedly badgers your front-desk staff member for a date, you can be held liable for not protecting that front-desk employee.
Third-party harassment can also occur if a customer makes an employee feel uncomfortable or offended. For example, third-party harassment can occur if a restaurant patron teases or inappropriately touches the waitstaff on repeated occasions, and management does nothing to intervene.
Any of these types of harassment can lead to a hostile work environment. Affected employees may feel uncomfortable to the point where they cannot concentrate on work. They’re usually less productive and call in sick to work more often. And of course, they’re more likely to quit and might even initiate a lawsuit, costing the company time, money, productivity and even public trust.
Creating your own Respectful Workplace begins with proper education of employees and front-line managers. Preventing harassment and making sure you’re in compliance with the law in every state in which you operate is one thing. Improving your culture to become an employer of choice is a larger effort that must be undertaken intentionally.
Start by getting everyone on the same page with powerful online harassment training, The Respectful Workplace. This all-new resource is fully compliant with all state laws, helps your leaders and employees identify the different types of harassment and goes on to show them how to act courageously when they are confronted with harassment of any kind. You can learn more, here.
In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build an inclusive culture. By blending a deep understanding of employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.