Employee harassment is the unwelcome and belittling behavior, action or speech directed at an employee or a group of employees. It constitutes discriminatory conduct against certain employees based on color, race, gender and gender identity, sexual preference, religion and age. An employee being persecuted because of his/her identity or nationality as well as due to any form of disability constitutes employee harassment. It also involves any act that causes an employee to be at a disadvantage.

Employee harassment is a wide issue and coming up with a single definition to coherently capture all its forms is quite challenging. The definition that comes closest to capturing all forms of this abuse defines it as a persistent and repeated irrational behavior targeting a worker or a group of workers. Some people refer to it as mobbing, employee abuse, mistreatment and bullying or even aggression. All these are either synonyms of employee harassment or are contained in it.

Harassment at the workplace is a vice that is highly fought against as it is a security risk as well as health risk – both emotional and physical – to the employee on the receiving end.

Misinformation and misconception about employee harassment

When the topic of employee and workplace harassment comes up, many think of sexual harassment and nothing more. As much as sexual harassment at work is very common, there are other forms of harassments that take place in a workplace, such as being denied promotions because of your associations, being demoted on the account of refusing favors (both sexual and otherwise) among others.

Another misconception is that only women face harassment, especially the sexual type. Harassment of male employees rarely receives any attention nor is it much studied leading to the feeling that men are not harassed in their workplace. Contrary to believe, the few studies done show that men are twice more likely to face harassment compared to women, including sexual harassment. The bulk of their cases, however, lie in physical harassment in form of aggravated assaults and even robberies.

Types of employee harassment

All the various forms of employee harassment can be categorized to either physical or emotional abuse.

  1. Physical harassment

Physical harassment constitutes sexual harassment and actual bodily violence. The latter involves physical threats and bodily assaults including shoving and fist fights. Sexual harassment against women has garnered attention from the media and scholars alike over the years.

This was mainly due to the many cases that involved female employees suing their bosses and coworkers for sexual assault. Included in this category is the quid pro quo kind of harassment, where an employee is awarded or denied job-related perks depending on whether he/she is willing to do a certain favor.

Most of the quid pro quo cases involve Bose’s asking for sexual favors in return for job promotions and salary increments.

  1. Emotional harassment

This involves emotional manipulation and abuse through hostile actions – whether verbal or non-verbal. It is not as obvious as physical harassment and hence it doesn’t enjoy much attention.