Workplace Harassment

11 Types of Workplace Harassment and How to Stop Them

Workplace harassment issues are common, but they may not be recognized, or they might be recognized but ignored or mishandled. So, if you can identify different types of workplace harassment, you can take effective steps to stop them. 

As you know, stopping harassment in the workplace is crucial to maintain a healthy work environment, ensure the mental well-being of employees, and prevent legal issues.

Here are 11 common types of harassment in the workplace.

1. Discriminatory Harassment

Discriminatory harassment occurs when a person is subjected to negative treatment due to their race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or age. This type of harassment fosters a hostile work environment and negatively impacts the targeted employee’s ability to perform their job duties.

Racial Harassment

Racial harassment encompasses offensive comments, actions, or conduct directed at someone based on their race or ethnicity. An example would be making derogatory remarks about a person’s skin color or mocking their accent.

Gender Harassment

Gender harassment refers to maltreatment or discrimination rooted in someone’s gender or gender identity. For example, making sexist jokes, employing offensive language, or commenting inappropriately about a person’s appearance based on their gender.

Disability Harassment

Disability harassment takes place when someone experiences unfair treatment or is exposed to offensive behavior due to their physical or mental disability. An example might be ridiculing someone for using a wheelchair or making derogatory remarks about a person’s speech impediment.

Religious Harassment

Religious harassment includes offensive comments, actions, or conduct directed at someone because of their religious beliefs or practices. For instance, poking fun at an employee’s religious attire or making derogatory remarks about their faith.

Sexual Orientation Harassment

Sexual orientation harassment focuses on individuals based on their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. An example could include making offensive jokes or comments about someone’s relationship or using derogatory slurs related to their sexual orientation.

Age Harassment

Age harassment refers to the unfair treatment or offensive conduct directed towards someone based on their age. This might include making jokes about an employee’s age, making assumptions about their abilities based on their age, or excluding them from certain activities because of their age.

2. Physical Harassment

Physical harassment involves using physical force or the threat of physical force to intimidate, harm, or control another person in the workplace.

Direct Violence Threats

Direct violence threats occur when explicitly threatening to harm or injure someone. An example would be telling a coworker that you will physically harm them if they do not complete a task or agree with your opinion.

Hitting, Kicking, or Pushing

These are examples of physical harassment that entail using physical force against another person. This can include slapping, punching, or shoving someone in the workplace.

Throwing Things

Tossing objects at someone or around the workplace to intimidate or harm others is another form of physical harassment. An example could be hurling a stapler at a coworker during a heated argument.

3. Personal Harassment

Personal harassment includes offensive jokes, demeaning behaviors, critical comments, and personal humiliation directed at a person, making them feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in the workplace.

Offensive Jokes

Offensive jokes consist of inappropriate humor or remarks that focus on someone’s personal characteristics, beliefs, or life experiences. An example could be making jokes about a coworker’s recent divorce or ridiculing someone for their appearance.

Degrading Behaviors

Degrading behaviors involve actions that belittle or demean a person, causing them to feel disrespected or undervalued. Examples include making fun of someone’s work, gossiping about their personal life, or spreading false rumors about their abilities or character.

Critical Comments

Critical comments are harsh or negative remarks about a person’s work, appearance, or personal life that undermine their confidence and self-esteem. For instance, repeatedly pointing out minor mistakes in a coworker’s work or making hurtful comments about their clothing or weight.

Personal Humiliation

Personal humiliation occurs when someone is deliberately embarrassed or put down in front of others. This can include public reprimands, mocking someone’s ideas during a meeting, or purposefully sharing private information about a person with coworkers.

4. Power Harassment

Power harassment transpires when someone in a position of authority exploits their power to intimidate, belittle, or control their subordinates.

Abuse of Authority

Abuse of authority encompasses a person in a supervisory or managerial role exerting undue pressure on subordinates or taking advantage of their position. An example would be a manager publicly reprimanding an employee for minor mistakes or imposing unrealistic deadlines.

5. Psychological Harassment

Psychological harassment includes subjecting a person to distressing or harmful behaviors that negatively affect their mental well-being.

Emotional Manipulation

Emotional manipulation is a form of psychological harassment in which a person employs deceptive or manipulative tactics to control or influence another person’s emotions. For example, a coworker might use guilt-tripping or gaslighting to make someone doubt their abilities or feel responsible for problems they didn’t cause.

6. Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other sexually motivated verbal or physical behavior.

Inappropriate Touching

Inappropriate touching is a form of sexual harassment that includes any unwarranted physical contact of a sexual nature, such as touching someone’s thigh or brushing against their body intentionally.

7. Retaliation Harassment

Retaliation harassment occurs when someone experiences adverse treatment or consequences for reporting harassment, participating in an investigation, or supporting a harassment claim.

Demotion or Termination

Demotion or termination as retaliation is when an employer demotes or fires an employee for reporting harassment or participating in a harassment investigation. For example, an employee might be fired after filing a complaint about sexual harassment in the workplace.

8. Third-Party Harassment

Third-party harassment arises when an individual experiences harassment from someone outside their organization, such as a customer, vendor, or visitor.

Harassment by Customers

Harassment by customers is a form of third-party harassment in which an employee is subjected to inappropriate or offensive behavior by a customer. For instance, a customer might make sexist remarks to a retail employee or persistently flirt with them.

9. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment happens when a person in authority demands sexual favors in exchange for job benefits, such as promotions or favorable work assignments.

Sexual Favors for Job Benefits

Sexual favors for job benefits is an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment where a supervisor requests sexual acts from a subordinate in return for a promotion or other job-related advantages.

10. Online Harassment

Online harassment refers to harassment that takes place through digital means, such as social media, email, or instant messaging.


Cyberbullying is a form of online harassment that entails sending threatening or offensive messages to someone via digital platforms. An example could be sending insulting messages to a coworker on a workplace messaging app.

11. Verbal Harassment

Verbal harassment includes offensive, humiliating, or insulting comments directed at someone, which can make them feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Derogatory Name-Calling

Derogatory name-calling is a form of verbal harassment where a person uses offensive or demeaning language to refer to someone. An example would be a coworker repeatedly calling someone by a derogatory nickname related to their race or gender.

How to Stop Workplace Harassment

It is essential to stop workplace harassment because it leads to a hostile work environment, decreased productivity, and increased employee turnover. Meanwhile, it can result in severe mental health issues for the victim, such as anxiety and depression. 

Addressing harassment is not only a legal obligation but also a moral responsibility of employers and organizations. Here are some ways to prevent different types of harassment:

Implement Clear Policies

Establish comprehensive and explicit policies that define and prohibit all forms of harassment. These policies should be easily accessible to all employees and be included in employee handbooks and training materials.

Training and Education

Provide regular training and education for all employees, including managers and supervisors, to raise awareness about different forms of harassment, their impact on individuals and the organization, and how to respond effectively.

Encourage Reporting

Create a safe and supportive environment that encourages employees to report harassment without fear of retaliation. Establish multiple reporting channels and ensure confidentiality for those who come forward.

Prompt Investigation

Once a complaint is filed, conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, and take appropriate action based on the findings. This may include disciplinary measures for the perpetrator or providing support and resources for the victim.

Empower Bystanders

Encourage employees to intervene and report harassment when they witness it, fostering a culture of shared responsibility in maintaining a harassment-free workplace.

Promote a Respectful Work Culture

Encourage open communication, collaboration, and mutual respect among employees. Recognize and reward positive behaviors that contribute to a healthy and inclusive work environment.

Monitor and Review

Regularly monitor and review the effectiveness of anti-harassment policies and procedures. Gather feedback from employees and make necessary adjustments to address any gaps or shortcomings.

Provide support

Offer resources and support to employees affected by harassment, such as counseling services or employee assistance programs.

Hold Everyone Accountable

Ensure that everyone, regardless of their position or role, is held accountable for their actions. This includes taking disciplinary action against those who engage in harassment and managers who fail to address it.

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