Sexual Harassment

Harassment Prevention

Workplace Harassment

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Examples Of Workplace Harassment Scenarios: How To Recognize Inappropriate Behavior

It is worth taking a much more pragmatic approach by looking at some concrete examples of workplace harassment scenarios in order to identify prohibited employee behavior. Generally, both employee and employer are aware that they must avoid harassment in the workplace at all costs. The problem often arises in recognizing harassment when it occurs.

Since harassment is something that one feels personally, it is often open to subjective interpretation. One may consider some actions as purely office room antics and camaraderie while, in fact, they may constitute conduct that falls within the remit of harassment in the eyes of the law.

Looking at each example will help greatly in identifying harassment situations in the workplace and warning against sexual harassment in particular. At EasyLlama we provide courses for companies, employers and employees such as the Sexual Harassment Prevention Training course. The course will help understand the law by giving a hands on grasp of the problems raised using various sexual harassment scenarios akin to the examples we will see below.

The very definition of harassment as set out by various laws is wide and all-encompassing which again leaves room for interpretation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines harassment as any unwelcome conduct received in the workplace based on race, color, sex, religion, age, national origin, or disability.

It is worth making the distinction between two main types of conduct that are considered harassment from a legal standpoint and considering them separately.

  • The first comprises any form of conduct that is frequent and severe that creates a hostile work environment such as abuse or intimidation.
  • The second is the more specific form of conduct that falls in sexual harassment. The EEOC (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome advances and demands for sexually motivated favors. Harassments arise when such actions create or affect the victim's employment.

Let's consider the following scenarios.

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Physical harassment

The most obvious form of harassment is physical contact and as we will see below the intentions of the harasser need not necessarily be bad for it to be considered as such.

Scenario 1:

Peter works for a recruitment company and his colleague John sits at a desk which is right behind him. As he walks into work every morning Peter flicks John behind the ear as he walks past and says good morning. This irritates John who informs his superior about the behavior of his co-worker. Peter says these are just jokes and refuses to stop despite John feeling extremely uncomfortable about the behavior and feels harassed by him.

Scenario 2:

April is a receptionist at a dentist's office. Pam, one of the assistant dentists, often asks April about the upcoming appointments. Every time she comes by she will take April's hand and examine her nails closely while complimenting her on how well-manicured they are. April has told Pam several times that she doesn't like having anyone touch her hands but Pam continues to do so on every occasion. She informs her supervisor who takes the matter seriously and gives Pam a warning that she must cease this kind of behavior.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment

A more vicious type of sexual harassment manifests itself in quid pro quo or in other words where one person needs to perform a sexual act or favor in order to keep their job or get a promotion. EasyLlama offers a specific course on the subject of Quid Pro Quo Harassment in order to provide adequate training to avoid such situations using real-life examples.

Scenario 1:

Sonia transferred to a new branch of a well-known bank. The IT assistant helps her get set up on her computer and puts his hand on her leg as he does so. Although this makes her feel ill at ease she assumes this is just a friendly gesture. However, every time she asks the IT assistant for some help he "inadvertently" touches a part of her body whether it be putting his hand on her shoulder, touching her hand or even going so far as to brush her breasts. Because of this behavior, Sonia no longer asks the IT assistant for any help whatsoever as she knows that she will have to bear some form of physical contact. The IT assistant's behavior is a clear form of sexual harassment which creates a quid pro quo situation where Sonia has to endure her co-worker's physical contact if she needs help.

Scenario 2:

Jerry and June work in the same company. June cannot stop looking at Jerry all day as she really fancies him and everyone can clearly see it. Every time Jerry gets up to go to the coffee room, June gets up and follows him so that they can be alone so she can quiz him about his personal life and try to make plans with him. Jerry is not interested in June's advances and the situation becomes unbearable for him as he feels June is invading his workspace. Here June is clearly the harasser while the example shows that sexual harassment is limited to women.

Scenario 3:

Mary has recently been hired as a personal assistant to the managing director, Mark. Towards the end of her probation period, Mark asks Mary out for a drink after work and tells her that if she wants to get a permanent position she needs to have sex with him. Mary refuses but knows that if she wants to stay an employee at the firm she will need to comply with Mark's request. She informs the human resources department of Mark's inappropriate request.

Scenario 4:

Jill and Amos meet at a work convention center. While they don't work for the same company they work in the same industry and exchange emails to compare notes on their respective fields. After a few emails, Amos quickly changes the subject from work to compliments Jill about how attractive and good-looking she is. Jill tries to bring the subject back to work-related questions but Amos persists in writing Jill emails on a daily basis explaining how in love he is with her. Jill informs her supervisor who in turn reaches out to Amos' supervisor to inform him that even if they don't share the same workplace employees should refrain from making inappropriate comments and advances that make the other person uncomfortable.

Verbal harassment

Finally, harassment need not necessarily involve physical contact whether it be sexual or not. Words in themselves can be used as a form of harassment in the workplace.

Scenario 1:

Edward has just taken up the position of office manager at a paper distribution center. On a regular basis, Edward has to receive various supplies that a well-known office supplies store delivers. Every time the delivery driver drops off the supplies he is wearing a jacket that has a racial slur on the back and behaves in a manner that brings Edward's attention to the writing on his clothing. Every week that there is a delivery Edward has to send one of his assistants to receive the supplies as the driver makes him feel uncomfortable and negatively impacts his work.

Scenario 2:

Patrick has started working at a mobile phone sales company. All his colleagues have been in the business for much longer than him and are experts at selling mobile phones. Whenever Patrick makes a mistake when talking to customers his colleagues make inappropriate comments about his young age and that he is too young to be able to talk to customers. Patrick feels really hurt about his colleagues' teasing and mean-spirit especially since he is singled out in the group. This creates a very hostile work environment for Patrick every time this happens and he feels he needs to quit his job.

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Scenario 3:

Mo works at a lumber yard and due to his religious beliefs, he is currently fasting during the day resulting in him being more tired than usual. The other workers make disparaging, offensive, and inappropriate comments about his hindered performance and religious convictions. Mo makes a report to his employer about the offensive remarks at the workplace to the human resources department.

Ultimate Guide To State And Local Harassment Prevention Training Requirements

Download the guide outlining all the state and local laws around sexual harassment prevention training requirements.

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Getting the appropriate training

As we can see, many different situations can be considered harassment in the workplace. While it is important to understand the conceptual definition of sexual harassment in the eyes of the law, a concrete example can help us learn about the various forms of harassment in the workplace. One cannot underestimate the negative impact harassment has in the workplace and its ramifications in the eyes of the law. In order to prevent that from happening, try EasyLlama. See for yourself why we are voted the best sexual harassment training available.

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