Workplace Harassment – How to Recognize and What to Do?

Workplace harassment

How to Recognize Bullying in the Workplace?

Bullying and harassment are not only problematic in school settings, but also in the workplace. Recognizing and dealing with workplace harassment is important to ensuring a healthy working environment. Workplace harassment can not only be emotionally damaging, but also result from retaliation by management.

It’s important for employees to know how to spot these behaviors and report them for help. As it stands, more than 80% of workplace bullying cases go unreported for different reasons. It’s important to recognize it so that those who are experiencing workplace harassment can seek out the help they need.


How to know if you’re being harassed at work?

There are a number of signs to look for when trying to gauge if you’re currently experiencing harassment in the workplace. Keep in mind that these behaviors are often intentional and as such, may be somewhat difficult to spot initially. However, the faster you identify the faster you can take actions. Besides, you might be not the only person suffering from this issue and possible that you are the bravest among them to report and resolve.

Workplace harassment

When Humiliation Feels like Bullying

If your manager or coworker is constantly putting you down and making you feel inadequate, this could be a sign of bullying. Oftentimes, it can feel like bullying even if the intention is not to hurt or humiliate you. Perhaps you’re being told that your work isn’t good enough or that your ideas aren’t valuable. Just because it’s coming from a manager or someone else in power doesn’t mean it isn’t bullying.

Constant verbal abuse can create a hostile work environment that interferes with your work and your ability to do it well. Humiliation rarely leads to improvement in employee performance and usually it has negative impact.

Whenever you feel like someone is trying to make you look bad, they’re treating you in a bullying fashion. If the person is a boss or senior individual, the abuse may seem even more severe. It could take place in public settings or over email, phone calls, text messages, etc.

Difficult to Detect

As any bullies know, the easiest way to get away with bullying someone is to stay anonymous. This is why a lot of bullying happens in the workplace, as an employee isn’t usually able to report it directly to their manager (although a boss can be considered a bully under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act).


The person harassed and victim can be different

Under some circumstances the victim might be not only the person who was bullied but also anyone who was affected by misconduct. Offensive conduct includes intimidation, insults, threat, name-calling, offensive jokes, taunt, physical assault, put-downs and abusive objects. Offensive behavior may affect anyone who works with bully and victim. Because destroyed working mood can lead to very serious mistakes and negative consequences.


Forms of Workplace Harassment

These include major three forms with the percentage of employees that have experienced harassment:

1. Hostile Work Environment (48.6%)

The most common type of harassment, hostile work environment, refers to any type of unwelcome behavior in the workplace. This may include verbal abuse, physical behavior that’s not safe or acceptable under company policy (such as hugging), or even something like distributing offensive materials around the office. The important thing to remember about hostile work environment is that it doesn’t have to be something that happens all the time. One incident can be enough to qualify.

Examples of hostile work environment

  • Unwanted sexual advances. For example, giving a colleague suggestive gifts, emails or texts.
  • Racial jokes or comments. For example, joking about African Americans’ so-called lack of intelligence (this is also illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts).
  • Calling someone by a racial slur. For example, refusing to call an African American by their name and referring to them as a derogatory term instead (i.e., “the janitor”).
  • Physical attacks on a colleague, for example pushing or shoving.
  • Sexual assault. For example, groping or unwanted sexual acts.


2. Hostile Work Environment Discrimination (43.3%)

Discrimination is a very different type of workplace harassment. Hostile work environment focuses on the inappropriate behavior of co-workers and bosses. Whereas, discrimination is much more likely to be perpetrated by an employer or business itself (although employees can also be guilty of discrimination).

Examples of discrimination

  • A boss who favors a particular race over another hires only Caucasian employees.
  • An employer verbally harasses an employee, which results in the employee leaving their job (this is both hostile work environment and discrimination).
  • A manager who is discriminates African Americans refuses to promote any of them to a higher position within the company.

3. Unwanted Sexual Attention (37.8%)

Unwanted sexual attention is something that happens all the time – from unwanted comments made in a work meeting to secretly groping a co-worker at the water cooler. The difference between unwanted sexual attention and hostile work environment is that, unlike hostile work environment, unwanted sexual attention isn’t always intentional. Harassment might be mostly accidental or even unintentional. It’s still harassment though, and can definitely be alarming for employees even if it’s unintentional.

Examples of unwanted sexual attention

  • A boss who makes inappropriate comments about a female employee’s body or appearance. For example, telling her she looks “stunning today” (this is also a form of sexual harassment).
  • A colleague who repeatedly goes out of their way to make another co-worker feel uncomfortable with sexually suggestive jokes, overtures or innuendo. For example, asking about their personal life in inappropriate detail and making suggestions for “fun things” to do together.


How to stop Workplace Harassment and where to report?

If you’re working in a workplace and experiencing harassment, you might not know where to go. Approximately 30% of employees have left their job because of unresolved workplace harassment issues. First of all, start to reporting about harassment to HR department and your manager. Complaints can be filed against any government body or organization that employs at least 10 people. HR complaints can also be filed with the Internal Affairs Division of a state police.

The Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Municipal Affairs have also established policies on harassment in the workplace under their jurisdictions. These policies may provide protections beyond those provided by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Employment Standards Act.

If you believe that your workplace is violating any of your rights under the Human Rights Code, you can file a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. If you are in a union, you may be able to get advice from the union’s collective agreement.

What to do when your employer violated your employment standards rights ? For example by not paying correctly or on time, or by firing for complaining about issues such as harassment or discrimination, then Employment Standards can help.


Recommended articles:

Time to Change Your Work: How to Know That It’s Time to Quit?

Need Career Growth? Improve Communication Skills


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here