10 Tips for Identifying and Preventing Harassment in The Workplace

Dr. Ryan Giffen

Workplace harassment can be present in even some of the most tight-knit cultures. However, just because a culture is strong doesn’t make workplace harassment acceptable in any form. Some types of harassment can go unnoticed by even the most experienced human resource professionals. Employees should keep their eyes and ears open for misbehavior and report harassment in workplace settings when they see it. Then, it is up to management to take the necessary steps to solve the problem.

What Is Harassment in a Workplace Setting?

It can be hard to define workplace harassment since it can have so many different variations. In a basic sense, harassment occurs when one individual’s physical or verbal conduct is hostile, degrading, or demeaning to another individual. It can happen to people of all races, skin colors, genders, ages, disabilities, religions, and much more. A person who engages in physical or verbal conduct to intimidate others, create a hostile environment, prevent others from doing their work, or negatively impact others’ chances of advancing in their career are subject to discipline based on workplace harassment laws. Some types of harassment in workplace settings are not clear at first, but we have explained how to identify and prevent them.

What Racial Harassment Looks Like

Racial harassment may start as innocent conversations between employees but can escalate quickly. It is best to stop any type of racial slurs, jokes, or insults. Creating an accepting work environment is great for the overall culture of your organization. Even if one employee of a certain race is not bothered by racial slurs, another employee may take offense. Racial harassment can turn ugly quickly. If an employee uses a racial slur, management should counsel him first and then set up consequences for any future violations.

Identifying Gender Harassment

Gender harassment is one of the most common types of workplace harassment. Sometimes the person doing the harassing does not even realize what they are doing. In these situations, management must identify the harassment and point it out so that the individual in question can stop his or her language or actions immediately.

Here are some examples of gender harassment:

           - a male saying a female can never be a boss because she does not have the backbone to stand up for the company

          - a male facing criticism for having a stereotypically female job, like a nurse

These types of gender harassment are often overlooked, but it is best to get ahead of any issues before they spiral out of control.

Age-Based Harassment Often Goes Unnoticed

Older people in the workforce often do not realize they are victims of age-based harassment until they look back at situations. Co-workers may joke around about a person’s age or experience as harmless fun, but management should never participate in those types of jokes. People experiencing age-based harassment miss out on invitations to important meetings or activities, are criticized more than others, or receive age-related insults for any reason. This type of workplace harassment might be designed to get the person to retire early, which is unethical and should stop immediately.

Stopping Bullies in the Workplace

Bullying is not necessarily illegal in workplaces, but it negatively impacts workplace culture. When one employee makes inappropriate comments, humiliates someone else, provides overly-critical remarks, or makes offensive jokes, their intent is often to bully them and show power. There is no place in a strong workplace culture for bullies, so address individual behaviors with the offender as soon as possible to protect your culture.

Power Harassment by Management

Power harassment is often limited to management thinking they are superior over other employees, but it can happen in other levels of the organization as well. This type of workplace harassment sometimes involves the harasser making unreasonable work demands that no one could achieve, demeaning another person’s efforts, or even making negative comments about the employee’s personal life. If power harassment is happening via a manager or supervisor, then the human resources department might need to get involved.

Psychological Harassment Is Real

Psychological harassment comes in many different forms, and many times the harasser does not know they are doing it. A boss or co-worker might belittle an employee’s suggestions or thoughts, or even ignore them completely. Challenging every word or action of an employee is also considered workplace harassment and can cause significant psychological distress. Not only could these hurtful words and actions impact their work life in negative ways, but they could bleed into their personal life, mental health, and physical health as well.

Halt Sexual Harassment Immediately

Sexual harassment is a major problem in organizations across the country. Some industries have larger problems than others, but it is not acceptable anywhere. Allowing sexual harassment in workplace settings can be damaging to employees and will come back to harm your company. If you notice any sort of sexual harassment, like sharing explicit photos, inappropriate touching, comments, gestures, or even invading one another’s personal space, address the issue with the harasser immediately.

Do not neglect to speak to the victim as well. Everyone handles sexual harassment differently, and some people might not want to come forward for fear of losing their job. They might feel more comfortable if you approach them first to discuss their experiences.

Verbal Abuse Can Cause Significant Harm to Employees

Verbal abuse is like bullying in that it is not considered illegal but can damage a person’s confidence and mental health. Employees do not deserve to be yelled at or insulted whether it is behind closed doors or out in the open. Many cases of verbal harassment in workplace settings go unnoticed or unresolved, but the victim could be suffering in silence if the issue is not brought to light.

Take Your Company Policies on Harassment Seriously

It is always important to revisit and remind your employees about the workplace harassment policies you have in place. The hope is that providing these reminders will keep everyone behaving appropriately without having to enforce any rules. However, if inappropriate conduct continues, then you will need to take further disciplinary action.

If you fail to take any action against offenders, you will create a culture for more harassment to take place and can send your organization into a downward spiral.

Listen and Take Action When Employees Speak Out

One of the best solutions to combat harassment in workplace settings is to make it as comfortable as possible for victims or witnesses to speak out. Employees are often hesitant to report any misconduct for fear of losing their jobs. Creating a safe zone for people to report inappropriate actions is essential. Then, listen to the situation and take action when an employee brings concerns to you.

About Dr. Ryan Giffen

With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Ryan Giffen is an expert in human relations and business culture. His career began in hospitality, leading operations and human resource departments for Fortune 500 companies and the like. Not long after, Ryan found his passion for teaching and consulting. He earned a Ph.D. in Hospitality Management with a Human Resources focus from Iowa State University and now works as an assistant professor at California State University, Long Beach. For over a decade, he continues to research and speak on organizational culture, relationship intelligence, and leadership effectiveness. Ryan is also the founder of Inospire, a company helping bosses and employees build stronger relationships with one another.  Lastly, Dr. Giffen is producer and host of the Corporate Shadow Podcast. a show helping everyday employees overcome workplace nonsense.