Harassment at Work: The Signs, Types, and What You Should Do about it

Harassment at work is both a psychological and an occupational issue. It has gotten a lot of attention recently. Because aggressive workplace behaviours have been linked to a significant amount of mental and physical stress in the workplace, it has become one of the most critical challenges in workplace management.

Key Takeaways

  • Harassment in the workplace is one of the biggest challenges of workplace management.
  • Physical, verbal, sexual, and third-party harassment are types of workplace harassment.
  • Anyone who encounters workplace harassment can file a claim with the appropriate authority.

What is Considered Workplace Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace harassment as “unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), gender/gender identity, nationality, age (40 or older), physical or mental disability, or genetic  (including family medical history).”

Furthermore, workplace harassment includes bullying, mistreatment, molestation, physical and emotional abuse, overbearing micromanagement, harsh remarks, and obstruction of promotion opportunities. In other words, acts of violation are a good way to describe workplace harassment.

The Professional Leadership Institute provides training on Managing Underperformers in the Workplace and offers a free preview.

What Are the Types of Workplace Harassment?

Physical Harassment

This is one of the most common forms of workplace harassment. It includes all kinds of physical violence against a person or their property, like intentionally destroying a person’s car or other belongings.

Verbal Harassment 

This is when an employee receives or is subjected to hurtful, offensive, and derogatory remarks and statements from their employer, coworkers, or senior colleagues.

Sexual Harassment 

This occurs when the victim is subjected to unwanted sexual advances by the perpetrator despite having expressed disapproval of such advances. Again, another facet of sexual harassment is what’s known as “quid pro quo harassment.” This is when a victim refuses to cooperate or give in to sexual requests and a superior threatens the victim with losing their job.

Third-Party Harassment: 

“Beth is a bartender. Every day, she is sexually harassed by bar patrons. The owner of the bar knows about lewd harassment and inappropriate behaviour. However, he tells Beth to ‘show more skin’ to attract more customers“. This is an example of third-party harassment described by the Shouse Labour Law Group.

Third party harassment is perpetrated by people outside of an organisation. Examples of perpetrators are customers, suppliers, vendors, clients, and independent contractors.

What are Some Examples of Harassment at Work?

Harassment in the workplace could be sexual or nonsexual. What constitutes sexual harassment includes inappropriate behavior, conduct, and comments on sex, or sexual orientation that inconvenience an employee in the workplace. And non-sexual harassment includes actions or comments regarding an employee’s race, age, and gender.

Furthermore, the following are some examples of sexual and non-sexual harassment at work.

  • Inappropriate sexual gestures from colleagues, clients, and employers
  • Making indecent comments about a colleague’s clothing, appearance, or body parts.
  • And all forms of inappropriate touching of body parts and lack of respect for personal boundaries.
  • Derogatory remarks about an employee’s religious beliefs or attempts to convert them to a certain religious viewpoint.
  • Making use of racial slang, phrases, or nicknames.

How Do You Prove Workplace Harassment is Happening to You?

  • Firstly, put in writing, names, dates, times, places and witnesses (if any) of the harassment. Do not leave out any details. Be specific. State what was said and where you were touched and threatened, as the case may be.
  • In cases where there are witnesses, ask them to verify your claim in writing.
  • Do not keep your written documents at the office or desk.
  • Keep evidence of correspondence from the harasser, such as email, text messages, photos, etc. They serve as irrefutable proof.
  • Write a report to the designated authority at your workplace that handles matters relating to harassment.

What are The 3 Basic Employment Rights for Workers

Across Canada, there are laws in place to protect workers on the job. This occupational health and safety legislation gives three important rights to all workers to ensure they have the knowledge they need to be safe on the job and the freedom to participate in health and safety activities in their workplace”, explains an article by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Also, employers are required to publish a poster outlining the following employee rights at their workplaces.

  • The right to know about health and safety matters: Employees have the right to obtain training and information on dangerous and hazardous materials to which they are exposed or may be exposed in the workplace.
  • Right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety: Employees have the right to be involved in the process of detecting, analysing, and mitigating health and safety risks in the workplace.
  • And the right to refuse work that could affect their health and safety and that of others: Employees have the right to refuse work if they believe it will put them or another worker at risk.

How to File a Harassment Claim or Grievance at Work

If you have experienced any form of harassment at your workplace, you have the right to file a complaint of harassment regardless of when the event may have occurred.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Notify your employer or your direct report orally and in writing of the occurrence of harassment.
  2. Within seven days of receiving the complaint, your employer or designated recipient is expected to respond officially to the complainant.
  3. Within 45 days, your employer or other designated person should set up a meeting with you so that you can work out a solution together.
  4. If the claim can’t be settled through negotiations, conciliation and investigation can be used to get it settled.

Real-Life Examples of Harassment Claims

On April 14 2015, Yahoo News published 3 major sexual harassment cases in Canada. Below is a summary of three of those cases:

Jian Ghomesi

Jian Ghomeshi, a former CBC host, is awaiting trial for sexual assaults against six women. Former members of his staff have come forward with stories of sexual harassment. Some claim the CBC was deaf to their concerns about a toxic work environment.

Canadian Forces

The Canadian Forces have come under scrutiny for the treatment of women within their ranks. In April, a report found an environment “hostile to women” at all levels of the institution.


In 2011, Cpl. Catherine Galliford came forward with allegations of serial sexual harassment and a culture of bullying at a British Columbia detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She alleged that she faced constant sexual harassment from the moment she joined the force.

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