Harassment: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Vericia Miller

Vericia has a masters in criminal justice.

In this lesson, you will learn more about sexual harassment in the work place. For clarity purposes, you will also be given specific examples of what sexual harassment looks like.

Harassment in the News

In 2015, a Fox News reporter alleged that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes sexually harassed her. She alleged that Ailes made sexual advances towards her and would penalize her if she didn't follow through. She stated that instead of formerly greeting Ailes in the morning, he'd request that she bend down to kiss him.

Harassment in the Workplace

The above example demonstrates a clear instance of harassment in the workplace. The word harassment itself is quite broad and can cover many different behaviors and actions. It refers to any behavior which annoys, threatens, alarms, or instills fear in a person on account of a protected characteristic such as their sex, race, religion, age or disability. It can include sexual harassment, racial harassment, religious harassment, disability harassment, and age harassment. Each form of harassment is illegal and each group below is protected against any type of workplace discrimination through federal law. If violations are found in the workplace, the harassed party can sue their employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Racial Harassment refers to any act which threatens, makes uncomfortable, or humiliates individuals based on skin color, country of origin, accent or culture. For example, if workers in a company routinely use offensive racial epithets and the boss does nothing to stop them, then a worker could sue for racial harassment.

Religious Harassment refers to threatening acts in the workplace against others based on their religion, who they worship, or what they believe in terms of spirituality. For example, if an employee posts offensive caricatures of a religious group, then an employee can sue for religious harassment.

Disability Harassment refers to a workplace culture or action of an employee which belittles someone based on either a physical and/or mental impairment. For example, if a boss makes fun of a worker at a meeting because of their disability, then that would be disability harassment.

Age Harassment involves harassing or mistreating someone based on their age. Whether it be an employee who is too young or one that is older, age discrimination is unacceptable.

Sexual Harassment

Probably the most discussed issue in harassment is sexual harassment. It is any type of behavior or action, of a sexual nature, that causes a person to feel uncomfortable, awkward or uneasy. Even sex harassment is broad because it can take on so many different forms. Making sexually suggestive jokes, asking for sexual favors, intentionally brushing up against someone, or even using sexual vulgarities are all general examples of sexual harassment.

Sex harassment falls into one of two categories: Quid pro quo and hostile environment. Quid pro quo is a form of harassment that is used to punish someone who rejects a superior or a co-worker's advances. This is where unwelcome sexual advances are rejected and employees are punished because of it. Employees may be denied promotions or even terminated.

The hostile work environment is where the sexual advances and/or verbal abuse is so frequent and severe that it makes the employee feel uncomfortable, scared, and anxious. When you are walking on eggshells on your own job due to being sexually harassed, that makes for a hostile work environment.

It is important to note that the victims of workplace sex harassment can be female or male. Victims can be employees, co-workers, management or even clients and customers. Victims are also of various ages and race. Sex harassment is actually very common in the work place. However, victims do not have to permit this type of behavior. Victims do have rights! As a matter of fact, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination. If victims believe they've been targeted in a sexual manner, they can report it to the EEOC, their supervisor, and/or the human resources department. Generally, employee handbooks provide guidelines for how to address this situation. Sex harassment is a form of discrimination because employees are singled out in some of the most disrespectful and unacceptable ways. They are sometimes intimidated or personally violated, and given ultimatums if they do not comply. Let's take a look at a few specific examples.

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