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The complete guide to harassment in the workplace

Harassment in the workplace isn’t something to take lightly. In the age of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, society is becoming more aware about the issue of harassment. What’s more, employers have an obligation to go above and beyond to make all employees feel accepted in the workplace and prevent harassment from taking place, as well as ensure that a harassment complaint is handled sensitively. In this Pacific Prime article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about harassment in the workplace. 

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What harassment in the workplace is

While each workplace and/or jurisdiction may define harassment in slightly different ways, the term is broadly associated with improper conduct by an individual that is directed at and offensive to another individual. It comprises objectionable acts, comments, or displays that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation, embarrassment, and/or intimidation. Typically, individuals are harassed on grounds of race, gender, religion, age, disability, and other markers of differences.

Here are 7 types of harassment in the workplace:

Discriminatory harassment 

Discriminatory harassment is defined by its intentions rather than how it’s carried out. The bully harasses the victim because they’re a member of a particular group. Here are some examples of discriminatory harassment in the workplace:

    • Racial: Someone from a certain racial or ethnic background hears a racial joke (targeted towards their race) in the workplace. 
    • Gender: A male nurse or male secretary gets degrading comments in the workplace regarding how he’s doing a “woman’s job”.
    • Religion: There may be pressure to convert to the majority religion to fit in with people in the workplace. 
    • And more. 

Personal harassment 

Personal harassment is targeted at the victim due to their nature, rather than because they’re a member of a particular group. It’s bullying in the most basic form, including inappropriate comments, offensive jokes, and any other behavior that creates an intimidating environment. 

Sexual harassment 

Sexual harassment is inherently sexual in nature, which typically includes unwanted sexual advances, conduct, and/or behavior. Here are some examples of sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Sharing sexual photos
  • Making sexual comments or jokes
  • Inappropriate sexual touching or gestures
  • Invading personal space in a sexual way
  • And more.

Power harassment 

Power harassment occurs when there’s a power imbalance between the harasser and the victim. As the harasser often uses their power to harass those who have lesser power, it’s often the case of a supervisor or manager harassing their subordinates. 

Physical harassment

Physical harassment involves physical attacks (like hitting, shoving, or kicking), threats of attacks, or destroying of property to intimidate. In extreme cases, physical harassment may be classified as assault.

Verbal harassment

Verbal harassment is usually the result of interpersonal conflicts in the workplace, which involves threatening, yelling, insulting, and cursing at the victim. As it can often be overlooked and unresolved, verbal harassment can be especially damaging. 

Online harassment

Cyber harassment is when the harassment is taken online. Harassers might spread gossip about the victim on social media, share humiliating things about the victim via mass email or even send harassing instant messages directly to the victim. 

Why employers should address harassment in the workplace

Some types of harassment such as sexual harassment, physical harassment, or discriminatory harassment can be unlawful. In these cases, employers may have a legal obligation to prevent and address harassment in the workplace. For the types of harassment that may not strictly be illegal, such as verbal harassment, there may still be a moral obligation to do so. But beyond this, did you know that there are also tangible benefits of an anti-harassment stance? Here are three examples:

1. Attract and retain the best candidate

By adopting an anti-harassment stance, you’ll be able to attract and retain the best candidates. This is because the best candidates want to work in an environment that makes them feel safe and welcomed. As we know, human resources are the backbone of any successful organization. 

2. Boost employee morale and productivity 

When employees feel safe and welcomed, they’re also going to feel happier coming to work. This boosts the overall employee morale and state of mind, which has direct spillover effects on their productivity levels. More productivity equals more profit for the organization. 

3. Facilitate innovation in the workplace

Given that employees from diverse backgrounds will be attracted to your organization, you’ll be able to benefit from a diverse and inclusive workforce. The exchange of different ideas and perspectives can drive innovation, which is crucial to stand out in the post-pandemic world. 

How employers should address harassment in the workplace

Now that we’ve gone over the negative effects of harassment in the workplace, let’s move on to the most important aspect of this article: How to stop harassment in the workplace. While there’s no foolproof way to completely stop harassment, this three-pronged approach goes a long way in preventing harassment. It also ensures that you acknowledge the harm of harassment and take harassment complaints seriously.

1. Create a harassment policy for your organization

A harassment policy outlines the definition of harassment, the procedure for employees to file a harassment complaint, and the steps that the organization will take to investigate and address the complaint. Even if you already have one, it’s worth updating it. 

2. Train your employees on all things harassment 

As long as employees are ignorant about the negative impacts of harassment, this is a breeding ground for harassment in the workplace. Given this, make sure you train all employees on what harassment is, as well as how to recognize and report it.

3. Ensure your employees can file harassment complaints 

Despite your best efforts, policy and training only goes so far. That’s where an internal complaint system comes in. Ensure that it’s anonymous and secure to encourage employees to come forward with their complaints so you can take further action to investigate.

The silver lining: An internal complaint system will also deter harassers from harassing individuals in the workplace.

Get in touch with Pacific Prime for all things employee benefits 

If you’re ready to adopt an anti-harassment stance, and embrace a diverse and inclusive workforce, you should get in touch with an employee benefits specialist like Pacific Prime. With over two decades in the sector, we help employers of all sizes and industries design and implement employee benefits solutions that cater to a diverse workforce. Using a tailored, technology-driven approach, our corporate team works closely with your organization to ensure that your goals and budgetary requirements are considered. 

Arrange a FREE consultation with our corporate team today!

Senior Content Creator at Pacific Prime
Suphanida is a Senior Content Creator at Pacific Prime, an award-winning global health insurance and employee benefits specialist.

With over 5 years of experience in the field, Suphanida spends the majority of her day synthesizing complex pieces of insurance-related information and translating this into easy-to-understand, engaging, and effective content across a variety of media such as articles, infographics, whitepapers, videos, and more.

Suphanida is also responsible for planning and publishing three whitepapers released annually by Pacific Prime: The State of Health Insurance Report, The Cost of Health Insurance Report, and The Global Employee Benefits Trends Report. Additionally, she handles the LinkedIn profiles of Pacific Prime’s Founder and CEO, as well as Global HR Lead.

Suphanida’s strengths lie in her strong research and analytical skills, which she has gained from her BA in Politics from the University of Warwick and Erasmus Mundus Joint MA in Journalism from Aarhus University and City, University of London.

Being of Thai-Indian origin and having lived, studied, and worked in Thailand, the UK, and Denmark, Suphanida also has a unique, multicultural perspective that helps her understand the struggles of expats and globetrotters.

Outside of work, she enjoys traveling to new places and immersing herself in different cultures.
Suphanida Thakral