Workplace Harassment: Handling Workplace Bullying

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It is important to understand that the workplace environment significantly impacts productivity. Although many cases of harassment may be unreported, there are many ways through which workers and management may experience harassment. Not all forms of harassment have a sexual orientation. It is essential for individuals to understand what constitutes harassment and how it can be handled by human resource managers and individual workers. Sexual harassment remains the most common way through which workers are maltreated in the workplace, despite the availability of laws and regulations on workplace conduct.

Definitions of Harassment and Sexual Harassment

Industrialization and access to education have enabled people of all races, religions, and gender to fit in many employment opportunities. However, Wang et al. (2018) report that workplace bullying and harassment have been significant issues of concern at national and international levels. Any offensive and unwelcome behavior towards a person constitutes harassment. When the conduct is based on a person’s gender or sexual orientation, it is described as sexual harassment and may be physical. It can also be verbal or non-verbal.

Statistics on Workplace Harassment

Although workplace discrimination can take many forms, sexual harassment remains the most prevalent. Research has shown that women are more likely to be sexually harassed (25-85%) than men. Although at least 90% of workers can note and distinguish sexual harassment instances, many of them fear retaliation and, therefore, fail to report the cases (Shetty & Nithyashree, 2017). In many cases, workers are bullied by their superiors, with only 40% of reported cases involving fellow workers.

Reasons behind the Rise in Workplace Harassment

While bullying and sexual harassment have continued to increase in the places of work, it is crucial to understand that employees have been instrumental in facilitating the rise in discriminatory practices. One of the reasons behind this increase is the failure of most people to report harassment instances. The silence, which is mostly based on the fear of retaliation, has enabled supervisors to manipulate workers (Shetty & Nithyashree, 2017). In some rare cases, harassed individuals do not know how and to whom they should go for justice.

Protection against Workplace Harassment

Harassment in the workplace is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal pay act of 1963 was enacted to facilitate equal pay among male and female workers. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) ensures that people are not harassed due to their age (Cobb, 2017). The federal law also fights for the disadvantaged through the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. (ADA). With these laws, any form of workplace bullying can be handled.

Agencies Handling Workplace Bullying

Equal Employment Opportunity laws are against particular sorts of harassment in specific categories of workplaces. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that investigates and prosecutes complaints of harassment. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for handling claims brought under state law (Cobb, 2017). A worker, an independent contractor, or a former employee can go to such agencies and make a complaint, known as a “charge,” describing the fundamental facts to back up their claim of harassment. These charges are investigated by the appropriate authorities.

Types of Workplace Harassment

As a result of verbal harassment, you may find yourself in an unending fight for the destruction that puts one’s health and profession at risk. It is made up of degrading words, unpleasant gestures, and unfair criticisms. It can include insults, slurs, unwanted “jokes,” and painful statements. Psychological harassment is comparable to verbal abuse, but it is more subtle and comprises exclusionary measures, such as withholding information, as opposed to verbal harassment (Cobb, 2017). Digital intimidation is the most recent form of bullying, and it may be found on a variety of platforms. Unwanted sexual advances, including unwanted touching, sexist remarks, exchanging pornographic material, sending sexts, or demanding sexual benefits in return for a raise, define workplace sexual harassment.

Verbal Harassment

As a result of verbal harassment, one may find themselves in an unending fight of destruction that puts one’s wellness and career at risk. It is made up of degrading words, unpleasant gestures, and unfair criticisms. It can include insults, stereotypes, unwelcome “jokes,” and painful statements (Hardies, 2019). Being a non-physical type of violence, verbal abuse can be hard to distinguish. Although yelling or making improper comments are mostly considered instances of personality conflict, they might have a serious psychological effect on a person.

Psychological Harassment

Psychological harassment is comparable to verbal abuse but is more subtle and comprises exclusionary measures such as hiding information, as opposed to verbal harassment. These behaviors are done to psychologically destroy the victim, erode their self-esteem, and degrade them (Hardies, 2019). Psychological harassment manifests itself in a variety of ways, including stealing a claim for someone else’s accomplishment, making unachievable demands, setting excessive deadlines on a specific employee, and repeatedly pushing an employee to undertake unpleasant duties. This bullying is facilitated by personality differences and workplace conflict.

Physical Harassment

Physical workplace harassment can take many forms and have varying degrees of severity. Simply touching an individual’s garment, hair, body, or skin is considered unwanted conduct (Hardies, 2019). More severe gestures, such as physical attacks and violent threats, as well as damage to an individual’s assets, are considered to be criminal offenses. Physical bullying can be sexual if a person stands too close to another. Rubbing against a person is also a demonstration of sexual harassment (Hardies, 2019). Physical sexual harassment can be easily recognized and reported to the relevant authorities.

Digital Harassment

Despite the fact that digital harassment takes place online, it can be equally as harmful as in-person abuse. It is the most recent kind of harassment, and it can be found in a variety of settings (Vranjes et al., 2020). Making threatening or degrading social media comments, building a fictitious character to torment someone, constructing a webpage about a person to humiliate them, or presenting false charges online are some examples of online harassment.

Sexual Harassment

Harassment on the basis of sexual orientation is a serious infraction that is more widespread than you may believe. Sexual harassment has been reported by 40% of females and 14% of the male population, according to Cobb (2017). Despite the fact that it is a frequent crime, it does not only involve women. Inappropriate sexual advances, including unwanted touching, exchanging pornographic material, sending flirty messages, or demanding sexual benefits in return for a raise or job security, denote sexual harassment.

Quid Pro Quo

In many work environments, the relationship between an employee and their employer determines work quality and productivity. When a leader demands sexual favors in exchange for an improvement in the worker’s position, they illustrate quid pro quo harassment (Aina-Pelemo, 2021). A supervisor requests sexual favors in exchange for improved treatment of a subject or warns the victim of termination, demotion, or reassignment if sexual pleasures are not provided to the boss’s satisfaction. Many cases are not reported of fear of being fired.

Hostile Working Environment

The workplace environment is created daily through physical, visual, verbal, and non-verbal cues. According to Abbas et al. (2017), the environment determines how employees relate to each other and to their supervisors. It also affects productivity. A hostile work environment is one that makes a worker uncomfortable (Abbas et al., 2017). It may be considered sexual harassment if it entails sexual displays, pornographic material, or verbal indications of abuse. A single instance of sexual discrimination, such as rape, can create a hostile working environment.

Best Strategies for Resolving Harassment Cases

Resolving workplace harassment requires the collaboration of all parties involved. The first thing should understand is what constitutes a harassment case. This sets the pace for all steps to follow in resolving the issue (Shetty & Nithyashree, 2017). In the case of non-violent and non-physical cases, a victim should attempt to discuss it with the perpetrator. According to Shetty and Nithyashree (2017), following the right protocols is crucial for effective resolution. The immediate manager should be informed next before taking the case to HR.

Filing a Complaint

Since every workplace is characterized by different values and personalities, resolving a complaint may be challenging. When the initial attempts fail, it is crucial to report the case to the relevant authorities. The EEOC requires all victims to file harassment complaints, giving all relevant information to prove the case (Wang et al., 2018). For investigations to commence, there must be sufficient proof. Since the EEOC is a governmental agency, it ensures perpetrators are persecuted.

Employer Liability for Harassment

If a supervisor’s harassment leads to an adverse employment decision such as dismissal, failure to elevate or hire, or financial change, the employer is immediately accountable. If a supervisor’s bullying creates a toxic work environment, the business owner can escape liability if they show that they made a reasonable effort to prevent and swiftly correct the harassing conduct (Wang et al., 2018). They can also argue that the employee did not employ any precautionary chances provided by the company. The employer is also liable for harassment practices from independent contractors.

HR’s Role in Mitigating Workplace Harassment

In today’s business, human resources play an incredibly significant function and have a responsibility to ensure that discrimination and sexual assault do not occur. According to Hardies (2019), HR should ensure the workplace is devoid of discrimination and bullying. While these actions can be halted as quickly as they are detected, it is a legal requirement for HR and also makes for a lot more productive workplace (Hardies, 2019). Employers who are devoted to creating a safe and efficient environment for the staff will see an increase in employee satisfaction and respect.

Employees’ Roles in Limiting Workplace Harassment

Since employees are the main victims of workplace harassment, they are required to make every effort to mitigate it. One of the reasons for the increased rate of bullying is ignorance of harassment characteristics and preventive measures. Workers should follow the company’s reporting channels whenever they are harassed (Shetty & Nithyashree, 2017). They should also conduct their affairs with dignity and avoid propagating workplace harassment. With a combined effort between workers and supervisors, workplace bullying can be effectively handled.


As conditions in the workplace change, employees may suffer from general and sexual harassment. Harassment can be avoided and stopped immediately after it is noted at the workplace. In many cases, leaders are the perpetrators, while employees fall victim to toxic workplace environments. The HR and the employer are liable for cases of harassment at work. If employees fail to amicably solve the issues with their immediate supervisors, they should file complaints to the EEOC. The law has established clear guidelines for workplace conduct.


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Aina-Pelemo, A. D., Oke, O. A., & Alade, I. T. (2021). Quid pro quo sexual harassment: Comparative study of its occurrences in selected institutions in South-West, Nigeria. Current Research in Behavioral Sciences, 2, 100-131.

Cobb, E. P. (2017). Workplace bullying and harassment: New developments in international law. Routledge.

Hardies, K. (2019). Personality, social norms, and sexual harassment in the workplace. Personality and individual differences, 151, 109-196.

Shetty, A. P., & Nithyashree, B. V. (2017). Workplace harassment among employees: An explorative study. Archives of Medicine and Health Sciences, 5(2), 187-188.

Vranjes, I., Farley, S., & Baillien, E. (2020). Harassment in the digital world: Cyberbullying. In Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace (pp. 409-433). CRC Press.

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