Unfortunately, even the sharpest of HR professionals sometimes misses the signs of workplace harassment. For one, it’s almost impossible to keep watch over what all your employees are doing. And secondly, employees have their own ideas about what it means to behave professionally in the workplace.
For example, one employee might find curse words perfectly acceptable to use in every day conversations with coworkers while another thinks they are never okay and actually finds them very offensive.
And since one of the ways the EEOC defines workplace harassment is creating a hostile work environment, it can be challenging for HR professionals to put themselves in the shoes of all employees and identify every behavior that a reasonable person would say crosses the line into harassment-and that goes doubly for your employees.
So to help you out, we’ve identified three types of workplace harassment, offered examples of each type, and provided some solutions that will help educate your employees.
Three Types of Workplace Harassment & Examples
Verbal or written is probably the most obvious form of workplace harassment-and the one you come across most often. Here are some examples:
- Sending emails with offensive jokes or graphics about race or religion
- Repeatedly requesting dates or sexual favors in person or through text
- Asking about family history of illnesses or genetic disorders
- Making derogatory comments about someone’s disability or age
- Imitating someone’s foreign accent behind their back
The biggest thing to watch out for nowadays is technology. For example, if one employee forwards an email with a pornographic image, it can circulate to the point where everyone in the office sees it-even if that’s not what the original sender was intending.
Physical harassment might be a little harder to recognize because it can sometimes be very subtle.
- Lewd hand gestures or other gestures meant to convey curse words
- Unwanted touching of a person or their clothing
- Frequently following or standing too close to a person on purpose
- Making sexually suggestive facial expressions
- Playing music with offensive or degrading language
Many times it doesn’t even have to be directed at the person to be harassment. So for example, if two coworkers are joking around and one makes an inappropriate hand gesture and someone else sees it, they might feel uncomfortable and even harassed.
Visual is probably the hardest to spot because it’s the most subjective and really requires you to put yourself in the shoes of the other person.
- Wearing clothing with offensive or vulgar language
- Displaying posters or pictures of a sexual nature
- Showing other people sexually suggestive text messages or emails
- Watching pornographic or violent videos
- Drawing violent or derogatory images
For example, someone might have a comic strip displayed at their workstation and while most people might find the joke funny, someone else might find it offensive and say that it’s creating a hostile work environment.
Ways to Educate Employees About Acceptable Behavior
Since it’s impossible for you to watch over all your employees, you’ll have to rely on them to understand what’s acceptable behavior, how to recognize workplace harassment and what actions to take. And here’s how you can help them.
Have the top-level executives set an example.
If a manager curses around their employees, the employees could take that as a sign it’s okay for them to curse too. So the first thing to do is ensure that your top-level executives and managers are setting a good example.
Define unacceptable behaviors in official policies.
Because your employee might have differing viewpoints about what makes for a hostile environment, it’s important that you clearly define in your code of conduct or employee handbook what is unacceptable behavior.
Implement anti-harassment training.
Another way to help employees understand their role in preventing workplace harassment is to have them take anti-harassment training. The training can also reinforce the guidelines you’ve set for acceptable behavior and reinforce them with relatable examples.
Outline reporting procedures and investigate claims.
Finally, you can encourage employees to come forward when they feel they are experiencing workplace harassment. Outline the procedures, investigate the claims-and most importantly-take remedial action.
Preventing workplace harassment is an ongoing process. It requires you to take a closer look at what’s happening around your office and put yourself in the shoes of all different types of people. It also requires you educate your employees on the different types of harassment and what they can do to prevent them.
We can help make it easier to communicate acceptable behavior to your employees with our anti-harassment training. Request a demo today to learn more.