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Not Just Sexual Harassment: 5 Other Types on Your Radar

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Not Just Sexual Harassment: 5 Other Types on Your Radar

News about harassment is everywhere these days. Why? Because harassment is everywhere. Although the problem has been recognized for decades, it seems like we’re living in a historic time for harassment awareness: a watershed moment in which millions of people are realizing how pervasive the problem is. From Silicon Valley boardrooms to Hollywood studios to Ford manufacturing plants, victims’ recent stories have made it clear that harassment can happen in every kind of workplace.

Sometimes, harassment is overt: think unwanted touching, physical intimidation, or verbal threats. Other times, it assumes subtler, but no less destructive forms: inappropriate questions during interviews, cyberstalking, exclusion, or policies and “unwritten” rules that allow those in power to dodge accountability and ignore alleged harassers’ behavior.

Whatever it looks like, wherever it occurs, harassment takes a massive toll—not only on those who experience it, but the organizations for which they work. In 2016, more than 6,700 charges of sexual harassment were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That year, the EEOCobtained more than $40.7 million dollars in monetary benefits on behalf of sexually harassed employees. Keep in mind that this statistic doesn’t include the millions of dollars obtained by harassed employees through litigation. And, for the victim, there are also less visible, indirect costs incurred by harassment, including reputational harm, missed opportunities, mental health issues, and physical health problems.

If you’ve been following the news or paying attention to your social media feeds, you probably know much of this already. But sexual harassment, the kind the #TimesUp and #MeToo campaigns seek to address, is only one type of harassment. Workplace harassment based on race, disability, age, religion, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation can occur just as frequently, and in the eyes of the law, it’s just as serious. Don’t forget: harassment is a form of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

These cases can carry massive costs for employers—and monetary benefits secured by the EEOC are increasing, year after year. Take a look at EEOC trends related to the total number of harassment charges and plaintiffs’ awards have since 2010. 

With these staggering statistics in mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to (re)introduce you to the various kinds of harassment, so you’ll know what to look out for in your workplace. The following definitions and statistics come from the EEOC and the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace June 2017 Report, the same report quoted above.

Sex-Based Harassment

What it is: The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964”:

“Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

What it looks like: Inappropriate touching and gestures; sexual assault and other forms of unwelcome sexual contact; lewd jokes, stories, and comments; the sharing or displaying of sexually inappropriate media at work; questions about an individual’s sexual history; and so on.

How often it occurs: According the EEOC, “anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” The percentage tends to increase when researchers ask employees if they’ve experienced specific behaviors, “such as unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion,” or when the question is posed in terms in terms of gender rather than sex.

Gender Identity-Based and Sexual Orientation-Based Harassment

What it is: Per the EEOC’s website, the Commission “interprets and enforces Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. These protections apply regardless of any contrary state or local laws.”

Although distinct from sex-based harassment, the EEOC writes that “such harassment may include sexually-based behaviors (such as unwanted sexual touching or demands for sexual favors) as well as gender- based harassment (such as calling a lesbian a ‘d*ke’ or a gay man a ‘f*g’).”

What it looks like: Verbal abuse, e.g. name-calling and use of derogatory language; physical abuse; vandalization of LGBT individuals’ property or workspaces; denying an employee access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity; social ostracization or exclusion of certain employees from certain workplace jobs on the basis of those employees’ gender or sexual orientation; and so on.

How often it occurs: According to the EEOC, between 7% and 58% of LGBT individuals have reported experiencing harassment at work. Surveys consistently indicate that transgender employees face higher rates of harassment, with 7% reporting physical assaulted at work because of their gender identity, and 6% reporting sexual assaulted. A further 41% “reported having been asked unwelcome questions about their transgender or surgical status,” while “45% reported having been referred to by the wrong pronouns ‘repeatedly and on purpose’ at work.”

Harassment Based on Race, Ethnicity, Religion, or National Origin

What it is: The EEOC specifies that “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, national origin, race, [or] color,” and that the “[t]he law’s prohibitions include harassment or any other employment action based on any of the following:

  • Affiliation: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because an individual is affiliated with a particular religious or ethnic group.
  • Physical or cultural traits and clothing: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because of physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics, such as accent or dress associated with a particular religion, ethnicity, or country of origin.
  • Perception: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because of the perception or belief that a person is a member of a particular racial, national origin, or religious group whether or not that perception is correct.
  • Association: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because of an individual’s association with a person or organization of a particular religion or ethnicity.”

What it looks like: Verbal abuse, including the use of racial slurs and derogatory language; mockery of an individual’s accent or spoken language; pressure to “fit in” through cultural assimilation (e.g. goading a Muslim employee into eating pork); and so on.

How often it occurs: While the EEOC states that “race-based and ethnicity-based harassment are significantly understudied,” the Commission suggests that between 40% and 70% of survey respondents have experienced it. A further “69% of respondents reported witnessing at least one ethnically-harassing behavior in the last two years at work and 36% of respondents who reported that they had not experienced direct harassment indicated that they had knowledge about the harassment of other co-workers.” On the topic of religion-motivated harassment, however, the EEOC claims that it was “not able to identify empirical data based on probability or convenience samples on the prevalence of such harassment.”

Disability-Based Harassment

What it is: Per the EEOC“It is illegal to harass an applicant or employee because he has a disability, had a disability in the past, or is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).”

As with all forms of harassment, disability based-harassment does not necessarily include “simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious,” but becomes illegal “when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”

What it looks like: Use of derogatory language such as “cripple” or “retard”; mockery of an individual’s speech impediment, posture, gait, disfigurement, or other linguistic or physical characteristic; tampering with disability equipment (e.g. a wheelchair); theft of equipment or medication; jokes made at the expense of a visually or hearing impaired individual—with or without their knowledge; and so on.

How often it occurs: According to the EEOC:

“Evidence on the prevalence of disability-based harassment in the workplace was even harder to find than studies of racial and ethnic harassment. In a survey based on a convenience sample of one university’s faculty and staff, 20% of respondents with disabilities reported experiencing harassment or unfair treatment at work because of their disability. In addition, 6% of all respondents reported having observed harassment or similar unfair treatment of a coworker with a disability. In a similar study, conducted at a different university, 14% of respondents with disabilities reported experiencing harassment or similar unfair treatment at work because of their disability, and 5% of all respondents reported having observed harassment or similar unfair treatment of coworkers with disabilities.”

Additionally, “[i]n the most recent analysis, the odds of a person with behavioral disabilities (anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric impairments) filing a harassment charge were close to 1.5 times greater than the odds of a person with another type of disability filing a harassment charge.”

Age-Based Harassment

What it is: Harassment based on an individual’s age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees and job applicants aged 40 and over from age-related discrimination, and by extension, this kind of harassment. The law applies to employers with at least 20 employees, employment agencies, government organizations (on the federal, state, and local levels), and labor organizations with at least 25 members.

What it looks like: Use of derogatory language (such as “old man,” “grandpa,” or “grandma”); mean-spirited jokes, comments, or gestures; offensive caricatures; exclusion from events or activities on the assumption that the individual is too “slow” or “frail” to participate; pressure to retire; and so on.

How often it occurs: The EEOC reports that it identified “two surveys on age-based harassment in the workplace, both of which were conducted by AARP”:

“In a survey based on a convenience sample of workers older than 50, 8% of respondents reported having been exposed to unwelcome comments about their age. When the same question was asked in a survey based on a convenience sample of workers older than 50 in New York City, close to 25% reported that they or a family member had been subjected to unwelcome comments about their age in the workplace.”

It’s Up to All of Us to Stop Harassment

Creating a safe and productive workplace that’s free from harassment requires more than just sending your employees through training and displaying the harassment policy in the breakroom. A solid harassment prevention initiative educates, reinforces, and demonstrates your company’s commitment to maintaining a safe and productive workplace.

KPA’s Harassment Prevention Solution, developed with the EEOC’s best practices, does just that. Our harassment suite includes…

  • program oversight and communication tools
  • policies
  • training
  • incident reporting and management
  • audit and reporting tools
  • investigation support, guides, and consultation

About The Author

Toby Graham

Toby manages the marketing communications team here at KPA. She's on a quest to help people tell clear, fun stories that their audience can relate to. She's a HUGE sugar junkie...and usually starts wandering the halls looking for cookies around 3pm daily.

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