Types of Workplace Harassment and How to Stop Them

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January 22, 2020
Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. by Inspiring Hope in the Workplace
January 20, 2020
Combatting Coronavirus (And Other Infectious Diseases)
January 22, 2020

Insurance brokers — we don’t need to tell you that your clients are vulnerable to countless risks. As their broker, it’s your duty to understand the risks that are most likely to affect them. One major risk that often gets overlooked? Workplace harassment. Below is a deeper dive into the most common types of workplace harassment that can occur.

What is Harassment?

Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy)
  • National origin
  • Age (40 or older),
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

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It’s important to note the difference between lawful and unlawful workplace harassment. Harassment becomes unlawful when:

  1. Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or
  2. The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Some examples of behavior that constitutes harassment when done due to the victim’s protected class include:

  • Job refusal
  • Termination
  • Having shifts cut down
  • Being given impossible tasks
  • Being abused, taunted, or isolated

The Risk: The risks of harassment are serious. Harassment lawsuits can be very costly; the average employee lawsuit costs about $250,000. Additionally, in the age of sites like Glassdoor, your clients can quickly acquire a reputation for intolerance and poor company culture. Even if the issue occurred a single time, poor reputations can be difficult to shake.

What are specific types of harassment and when can they occur?

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment involves unwanted sexual advances, conduct, or behavior. There are two major types of sexual harassment:

  1. Quid pro quo (this for that) is when a benefit is offered in exchange for some kind of sexual activity. This type of sexual harassment can also be used for blackmail.
  2. Hostile work environment harassment is sexual harassment that fosters an intimidating environment for the victim.

The Risk: 90% of American employees believe sexual harassment isn’t an issue at their workplace, yet more than half (54%) of working female Americans have experienced unwanted sexual advances at work. And while 98% of organizations have a sexual harassment policy in place, very few have employee-focused strategies such as bystander intervention training or anonymous reporting tools.


Retaliation is when an employee is harassed for reporting or standing up to another type of harassment.

An example of retaliation harassment is:

  1. Employee 1 files a complaint about employee 2.
  2. Employee 2 discovers a complaint regarding them has been filed and finds out employee 1 made the complaint.
  3. Employee 2 harasses employee 1 to get revenge.

The harassing behavior itself can be in the form of threats, intimidation, sexual harassment, physical harassment, cyberbullying, ostracizing behaviors, unrealistic workload, personal humiliation, and more.

The Risk: This form of harassment is often overlooked because of its relatively secret nature. Filing a complaint against a coworker is a difficult step for many employees. Failing to protect the victim from retaliation harassment demonstrates that an organization does not take complaints seriously and poor behavior is tolerated within the company.

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Third-Party Harassment

Third-party harassment is perpetrated by an individual outside of the organization. Rather than a manager, boss, or coworker, the individual is harassed by a client, customer, vendor or supplier. Younger employees are especially susceptible to this type of harassment due to their lack of experience or not wanting to draw the attention of their supervisor.

The Risk: Because the perpetrator is not an employee and did not sign an employee handbook or agree to a code of conduct, organizations have limited options in many cases of third-party harassment. Less severe cases might be ignored. This signals to the perpetrator that their behavior is tolerable and can allow the situation to worsen quickly.

How Brokers Can Help Clients Protect Themselves and Their Employees

Now that you understand the types of harassment and the risks that could affect your clients, let’s move on to the next step — actions you can take to help your clients protect themselves and their employees while discouraging this behavior.

If your clients don’t have a living breathing employee handbook, they need to create one, present it to all their employees, and make it easily accessible. If they have a code of conduct they must ensure it’s up-to-date by scheduling an annual check-in to fine-tune the policy. Once they have an up-to-date code of conduct, they should follow it without exception. If they have a current policy that is accessible and enforced, employees will have no reason not to abide by it. Failing to enforce or abide by your code of conduct puts you at the same risk as not having one at all.

Lastly, if your clients don’t have a harassment prevention training program, they should start implementing one ASAP. Organizations need to get in front of these issues by talking about them honestly with employees at all levels. By offering an effective training program and a living handbook with up-to-date policies, you are helping to minimize real risks and protect their biggest asset and their biggest liability — their people.

Make ThinkHR’s Workplace Harassment Prevention training program part of your offerings. Request a no-pressure, free consultation today.

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