When you think of harassment in the workplace, you probably have images of sexual harassment towards women that pop into your head.
However, many other types of workplace discrimination happen. Your workplace is responsible for maintaining an environment free of all kinds of harassment, and just about anything that makes you uncomfortable or violated probably falls into one category or another.
Harassment is a form of discrimination and is defined as any unwelcome conduct based on race, religion, sex, color, age, national origin, disability, or genetics. It becomes illegal when it involves offensive conduct, is severe and repetitive, and creates a hostile or intimidating work environment. This form of discrimination can come from a supervisor, boss, co-worker, vendor, or even a customer.
While many employers have expanded the diversity in their workplace in recent years to bring more awareness to the differences of people, with diversity can come new populations of people to discriminate against.
Let’s take a look at a few lesser-known forms of harassment and what you can do about them if they happen in your office.
1. Bullying in the Workplace
Did you know that nearly 75% of employees have experienced workplace bullying in the past as either a witness or a target?
Bullying is the repeated, unwanted mistreatment of another person by one or more individuals. The attention given to the target is abusive and aims to embarrass, humiliate, intimidate, or threaten. Workplace bullying tends to be more psychological and less physical compared to the bullying that happens in schoolyards across the nation.
Bullies at work are often the workers who are threatened by a co-worker’s success. The victim might be a better worker, more skilled, or possess technical abilities that the bully doesn’t have. They are usually manipulative and controlling, and they might view just about everything as a competition.
How to Handle the Workplace Bully
You must know that bullying at work doesn’t usually end quickly. However, you also don’t have to just sit back and take it. Here are a few strategies to use when confronting a workplace bully:
- Keep a record of the interactions — At first, you might want to do this just to prove to yourself that you’re not crazy. However, the longer it goes on, the more critical it becomes to have a record of each incident. Include things like the date and time of the event, any witnesses, and what triggered the confrontation.
- Talk to your boss or the bully’s boss — You can let the bully know that you don’t like the interactions and that you want them to stop. Then, you need to report it to your boss or their supervisor and let them address the situation from there. Be sure to follow any workplace policies that might be instituted to address these types of cases.
2. Sexual Harassment Against Men
Sexual harassment at work in the #MeToo era has brought much awareness to the problem. However, when you hear the words “sexual harassment,” you probably still picture a female victim.
Specifically, sexual harassment is defined as, “any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to,” and does not specify the genders involved, as anyone can be a victim.
A 2017 CNBC article detailed sexual harassment in the workplace, reporting that about 19% of all workers experience sexual harassment during their careers. Of these people, around 10% of the targets were men.
While it’s still more common for women to be the target, cases in which a man is the victim of sexual harassment are being reported more often in today’s socially aware environment. The perpetrator of the harassment can be either a man or a woman.
Harassment can even happen between one male and an entire group of men. You might also think that sexual harassment towards a man only occurs in factories or warehouses, but it’s common in professional office settings as well.
How to Handle Sexual Harassment Against Men
Sexual harassment in the workplace is handled the same way, regardless of the victim is male or female. Here are a few things you can do if you’re the target of sexual harassment:
- Review your company’s sexual harassment policy — Familiarize yourself with the policy so that you can decide for sure if what’s happening to you fits the definition.
- Follow the Sexual Harassment Complaint Procedure — If the policy advises you to make a written report or notify your direct supervisor verbally, do it. Just be sure to follow the policy so that you’re covered. If your boss is the perpetrator, you might have to go to their boss or the human resources department instead, but this should be outlined in your company’s documents.
3. Sexual Orientation Discrimination
We’ve come along way in educating others about individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual. However, discrimination based on sexual orientation at work still exists. There are no federal laws that specifically say that it’s illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in the private sector. Some states, like Iowa, Washington, and California, have laws to protect people from this type of harassment.
Sexual orientation discrimination can look very different from one workplace to the next. You may be fired, passed over for a promotion, or laid off solely because of who you choose as your partner outside of work.
Another person may experience differences in pay or benefits. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to identify and then prove that you’re the victim of sexual orientation discrimination.
How to Handle Sexual Orientation Discrimination
If you or someone you know is receiving unwelcome conduct because of the sex of the person you date or marry, and it makes the workplace unsafe or hostile, you might be the target of sexual orientation discrimination. Here are a few ways you can handle it:
- Know you have rights — Even if you live in a state that doesn’t have specific laws about this form of abuse, you could be covered under other laws. You may need to seek out legal counsel to create a plan to address the situation.
- Report it to your supervisor or human resources department — If the perpetrator is your supervisor or the company as a whole is perpetrating the offense, you’ll probably need legal advice. However, if it’s possible, start by discussing your feelings or observations with your boss.
4. Third-Party Harassment
Another type of workplace harassment that’s common is known as third-party harassment. This happens when the perpetrator is someone outside of your company. It might be a customer or outside vendor who comes into the office. Third-party harassment might be sexual or could be related to your age, sex, nationality, or any other category.
How to Handle Third-Party Harassment
Third-party harassment can get a little tricky because many companies feel that customers are always right. You may also worry that you’re misinterpreting a vendor’s actions since they are only in the office here and there. It’s critical to remember that you don’t have to take harassment, even if it only happens once a week when the vending machine guy is in the building. Here are a few ways to address this type of discrimination:
- Firmly, but politely tell them you want the behavior to stop — Don’t make it personal about them as an individual. An example of how to say this might be, “Jim, I don’t like it when you touch my arm or shoulder during conversations. I would like this to stop.” Don’t ask them to stop, be sure to tell them you want it to end.
- Report it to your supervisor — If your request for the behavior to stop doesn’t do the trick, talk to your supervisor about what’s happening and ask for their help.
5. Psychological Harassment
Everyone feels like they might be losing their mind at work from time to time. However, if someone at work is constantly belittling you, putting you down, and sharing needless condescending remarks on the daily, you might be the target of psychological harassment.
Statements like these are not only unprofessional, but they can also cause you to feel stressed, anxious, and even a bit depressed.
How to Handle Psychological Harassment
Handling this situation head-on is best. Here are a few ways you can do this:
- Talk to your boss — You might want to bring the situation up to your boss to see if they’ve noticed any of these behaviors from the perpetrator. This is also an excellent time to ask if your employer has a formal complaint process, just in case you need it.
- Address the perpetrator directly — Let them know that you don’t like the comments they make and ask them to stop. Keep a note about this conversation, including the date so that you can keep track of behaviors if they happen again.
Moving Beyond the Harassment
You must address any form of discrimination quickly. If you allow it to linger, you’ll soon be wondering if it’s time to quit your job and move on.
Use these descriptions of lesser-known forms of harassment and our strategies for addressing each to keep the situation from getting to that point.