How to Spot and Stop Workplace Harassment: 7 Key Signs to Watch Out for
Updated: Nov 5
Workplace harassment is a serious problem that can affect anyone, regardless of their position, role, or industry. It can create a hostile or abusive work environment, damage morale and productivity, and harm the physical and mental well-being of employees. Therefore, it is important to be observant and aware of the signs and behaviors that may indicate workplace harassment and take action to prevent or stop it. Here are some key indicators to watch out for:
Verbal Abuse: How to Recognize and Respond to It
Verbal abuse is one of the most common forms of workplace harassment. It involves any instances of derogatory or offensive language, insults, or belittling comments directed towards an individual or a group. Verbal abuse can demean or intimidate others and affect their self-confidence and performance.
For example, John was constantly harassed by his co-worker, who made racist remarks and jokes about his ethnicity and accent. He felt hurt and angry, and his work quality suffered. He decided to confront his co-worker, who apologized and stopped the behavior.
If you witness or experience verbal abuse, you should not tolerate it or ignore it. You should speak up for yourself or others, and report the incidents to your supervisor, human resources department, or follow the established procedures within your organization.
Discrimination: How to Identify and Eliminate It
Another form of workplace harassment is discrimination, which involves any unfair treatment based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, age, religion, or disability. This can include unequal opportunities, biased decision-making, or exclusionary practices.
For example, Mary was denied a promotion because of her gender, even though she had more qualifications and experience than her male colleague who got the job. She felt frustrated and discriminated against, and her work engagement declined. She decided to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who investigated the case and found evidence of discrimination.
If you witness or experience discrimination, you should not accept it or stay silent. You should document the incidents and gather evidence and report them to the appropriate authorities or agencies.
Sexual Harassment: How to Prevent and Handle It
Sexual harassment is another type of workplace harassment that involves any unwelcome sexual advances, comments, or gestures that create a hostile or uncomfortable work environment. This can range from inappropriate jokes or comments to unwanted physical contact.
For example, Lisa was constantly harassed by her boss, who made sexist jokes and comments about her appearance and performance. He also touched her inappropriately and asked her out repeatedly. She felt humiliated and powerless, and her work quality suffered. She decided to report him to HR, who took immediate action and transferred him to another department.
If you witness or experience sexual harassment, you should not endure it or blame yourself. You should reject the behavior and make it clear that it is unwelcome, and report the incidents to your supervisor, human resources department, or follow the established procedures within your organization.
Bullying or Intimidation: How to Spot and Stop It
Bullying or intimidation is another form of workplace harassment that involves any persistent patterns of aggressive behavior, such as threats, humiliation, or constant criticism. Bullying or intimidation can undermine an individual's self-esteem or create a climate of fear.
For example, David was constantly bullied by his team leader, who yelled at him in front of others, criticized his every move, and gave him unrealistic deadlines and workload. He felt stressed and scared, and his work satisfaction decreased. He decided to seek help from his mentor, who advised him on how to deal with the situation and supported him throughout the process.
If you witness or experience bullying or intimidation, you should not suffer in silence or retaliate. You should seek help from someone you trust, such as a colleague, a friend, or a counselor. You should also report the incidents to your supervisor, human resources department or follow the established procedures within your organization.
Isolation or Exclusion: How to Detect and Avoid It
Isolation or exclusion is another form of workplace harassment that involves any instances where certain individuals are consistently left out of meetings, social gatherings, or important discussions. Isolation or exclusion can create a sense of isolation and marginalization.
For example, Anna was constantly isolated or excluded by her peers, who did not invite her to lunch, team events, or project meetings. She felt lonely and rejected, and her work collaboration suffered. She decided to reach out to her peers, who apologized and included her in their activities.
If you witness or experience isolation or exclusion, you should not isolate yourself or exclude others. You should try to build rapport and trust with your colleagues and invite them to join you in social or professional activities. You should also report the incidents to your supervisor, human resources department, or follow the established procedures within your organization.
Retaliation: How to Recognize and Resist It
Retaliation is another form of workplace harassment that involves any negative consequences or retaliation faced by individuals who report harassment or support victims. Retaliation can take various forms, such as professional setbacks, isolation, or even termination.
For example, Mark reported his manager for sexually harassing his co-worker, who was too afraid to speak up. He faced retaliation from his manager, who gave him poor performance reviews, denied him training opportunities, and threatened to fire him. He decided to seek legal advice, and filed a lawsuit against his manager and the company.
If you witness or experience retaliation, you should not give up or back down. You should document the incidents and gather evidence and seek legal advice or representation. You should also report the incidents to your supervisor, human resources department, or follow the established procedures within your organization.
Psychological or Emotional Distress: How to Notice and Address It
Psychological or emotional distress is another indicator of workplace harassment that involves any signs of increased stress, anxiety, or changes in behavior among colleagues. Harassment can have a significant impact on an individual's mental well-being, leading to decreased productivity and engagement.
For example, Sarah was a victim of workplace harassment for months, but she did not report it or seek help. She developed symptoms of depression, such as low mood, loss of interest, and fatigue. She also started to avoid work and social interactions, and her work performance declined. She decided to seek professional help from a therapist, who diagnosed her with depression and prescribed her medication and therapy.
If you witness or experience psychological or emotional distress, you should not ignore it or dismiss it. You should take care of yourself and your mental health and seek professional help if needed. You should also report the incidents of harassment to your supervisor, human resources department, or follow the established procedures within your organization.
Workplace harassment is a serious issue that can affect anyone in any workplace. It can have negative consequences for both individuals and organizations, such as reduced morale, productivity, and well-being. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs and behaviors that may indicate workplace harassment and take action to prevent or stop it. Remember, creating a safe and respectful work environment is not only a legal obligation, but also a moral duty. We all have the right to work without fear or harassment, and we all have the responsibility to protect ourselves and others from harm. Don't hesitate to report any incidents of harassment as soon as possible, and seek support from your colleagues, friends, or family. Together, we can make a difference.
About the Author
Joseph “Paul” Manley is the Founder and Principal of Risk Mitigation Technologies, LLC, an Independent Security Management Consulting and Training firm with a focus on violence detection, prevention, response, and recovery. Paul is a retired Massachusetts Police Lieutenant, Adjunct Lecturer, Board-Certified Workplace Violence and Threat Specialist, Security Expert, and Trainer.