Workplace harassment is any type of unwelcome action toward an employee that leads to difficulty in performing assigned tasks or causes the employee to feel he or she is working in a hostile environment. The harassment may be based on such factors as race, gender, culture, age, sexual orientation, or religious preference. In many countries, there are laws that protect employees from enduring this type of on the job abuse, if the reality of the harassment can be proven.
In general, there are several factors that must be present in order to workplace harassment to be recognized. First, the conduct must be unwelcome and offensive to the employee. Second, the employee must voice his or her objection to the behavior, allowing the offending individual or individuals to correct their workplace behavior. Last, the conduct must be of a nature that makes an impact on the ability of the employee to carry out his or her duties in an efficient and responsible manner.
Some forms of workplace harassment are more common than others. Unwanted sexual advances by peers or supervisors is the most oft cited form of workplace harassment. Both male and female employees may be approached by someone in the workplace who either hint or directly state that compliance will benefit the employee in some manner, or at least help to ensure that employment will continue. Today, many countries have laws that protect employees of all genders from this type of harassment.
Workplace harassment may also take the form of prejudiced remarks or tasteless jokes that have to do with an individual’s personal beliefs, age, or sexual orientation. While harassment of this type is widespread in many offices and other workplaces, employers are beginning to take a more aggressive stance on slurs, name-calling and veiled threats that target employees for any of these reasons. In addition, more countries are expanding harassment laws to include irresponsible remarks and various forms of intimidation that have to do with age, religion, and orientation.
Since the latter part of the 20th century, more employers have put in place specific procedures for reporting and evaluating situations involving workplace harassment. In the best of circumstances, the goal of the reporting is to identify unacceptable behavior and correct the issues so that everyone can feel more comfortable in the workplace. However, internal politics within the company can lead to both the downplaying of legitimate complaints as well as make it easy for people to be unjustly accused of harassing another employee.
More progressive employers make use of sensitivity training to assist employees in dealing with workplace harassment. The training often involves helping everyone to understand more about different cultures and other characteristics that are relevant to those working for the business. By dispelling myths about issues such as age, gender, orientation, and race, the hope is that colleagues become more educated and thus less likely to engage in conduct that will be offensive to a coworker.
Even as companies take steps to police the actions of their employees, local and national governments enact legislation that provides individuals with legal protection from many forms of workplace harassment. Protection of this type is especially important in situations where a company does not have a well-defined procedure for dealing with reported harassment, or officers are indifferent to the intimidation and hostile work environment that workplace harassment creates.