Common Types of Harassment in the Workplace and What You Can Do About It

Harassment at a place of work is nothing to joke about. As an employee, you have a right to work at a site that is free from insults, intimidation, and bullying. And yet, even though there are established laws that protect you against these harassment tactics, this sometimes-illegal behavior still occurs. What makes this situation even worse is that there are so many different types of workplace harassment that even the most diligent of supervisors can miss the signs. However, as an employee experiencing this type of harassment, you should not just have to deal with it.

To help you better understand if you are getting harassed at work, we have prepared the following blog post, which will explain the most common types of harassment found in the workplace, and what you can do about it.

Discriminatory Harassment

Discriminatory harassment refers to the physical or verbal conduct that shows hostility towards another individual based on their race, gender, color, national origin, age, disability, religion, or other protected personal characteristics. Such workplace harassment is considered illegal under both state and federal law.

Racial Harassment

Racial harassment involves harassment due to your skin color, ancestry, citizenship status, or race. This harassment can include racist jokes, insults, slurs, racial disgust, and even degrading comments.

Gender Harassment

Gender harassment results from discrimination against another individual because of their gender. This harassment often involves stereotypes indicating how a man or a woman should act.

Religious Harassment

Religious harassment is more focused on an individual’s religious beliefs. However, it can sometimes overlap with harassment based on race. Religious harassment can involve comments or jokes about religious traditions, holidays, clothing, and customs. Or it can be in the form of pressure to convert an individual into a different religion.

Age Harassment

Age harassment often includes any teasing, unfair criticism, insults, or being left out of activities because of an individual’s age. According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers 40 years or older.

Disability Harassment

It is illegal to discriminate against another employee because of their real or perceived disability, their relationship to a disabled person, or their use of disability services. This type of harassment is often experienced through patronizing behavior, crude jokes, or refusal to provide reasonable accommodations.

Personal Harassment

Personal harassment is a type of harassment that is not based on one of the protected classes. But rather, it is the most basic form of bullying that is not illegal. Often this behavior creates an offensive or intimidating work environment for the victim, that includes

  • Crude Jokes
  • Offensive Comments
  • Personal Humiliation Tactics
  • Critical Remarks
  • Intimidation Tactics
  • Excluding Behaviors

Physical Harassment

Physical harassment, often referred to as workplace violence, is harassment that involves physical threats or attacks. In some instances, it can even be regarded as an assault. Physical harassment needs to be taken very seriously in the workplace and explained clearly to make the actions more defined.

Some examples of physical harassment include the following:

  • Threats of direct harm or an intent to inflict this harm
  • Physical Attacks that include shoving, kicking, or hitting
  • Threatening Behavior (such as shaking your fist angrily)
  • Destructive Behavior that is meant to intimidate another employee

Depending on the industry (health care, social services, law enforcement, education), the employees may be at a higher risk of workplace violence.

Power Harassment

When there is a power disparity between the harassed and the harasser, it is often referred to as power harassment. The harasser who has a higher status in the workplace hierarchy bullies someone in a lower rank, making excessive demands of them, intruding into their personal life, providing verbal intimidation, demeaning comments, or physical threats.

Psychological Harassment

Psychological harassment often involves specific actions that hurt an employee’s mental wellbeing. Victims of this harassment feel belittled or put down on a professional and personal level, and this harassment can quickly escalate into impacting their health, social life, and work product.

Psychological harassment can include actions such as:

  • Isolating the victim
  • Ignoring the victim
  • Trivializing the victim and their ideas or thoughts
  • Spreading rumors about the victim
  • Challenging anything the victim says

Online Harassment

Technology has significantly improved our working environment. However, as more employers embrace technology’s power, online harassment or cyberbullying is continuously on the rise. This type of harassment often includes:

  • Spreading gossip or lies about the victim through social media channels
  • Sharing humiliating information about the victim by mass chat or mass email
  • Sending harassing text messages or other instant messages to the victim

Retaliation Harassment

Retaliation harassment is a form of harassment used in retaliation against another employee for participating in a lawfully protected activity. For example, if employee A files a complaint against employee B, and employee B finds out, and they start harassing employee A as revenge for filing the claim- this type of harassment is called retaliation harassment.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of harassment that is sexual in nature and includes unwanted sexual conduct, behavior, or advances. Not only is this type of harassment always on the news, but what makes it so prevalent is that it can happen on any worksite, affect both men and women, and impacts the victim’s life immediately. Examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Sharing sexual photographs
  • Making sexual comments or jokes or posing sexual questions
  • Posting Sexual Posters
  • Inappropriate sexual touching or gestures
  • Sexually invading another employee’s space.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment also translated to “this for that” is a form of exchange-based sexual harassment. It is often experienced when a supervisor or manager conditions work benefits in exchange for some sexual favor. It can also occur if the harasser turns to blackmail to coerce another employee into a sexual act. This type of harassment can be either explicit or implicit, meaning the harasser can outright ask for the sexual exchange or hint at it.

Third Parties Harassment

Third-party harassment is a type of harassment in the workplace instigated by a third-party or someone outside the organization, such as a customer, supplier, or vendor. The victims of this type of harassment are often low-status workers or low-power jobs (such as a sales associate or cashier). And even though this type of harassment does not fit the typical workplace harassment narrative, it still is the employer’s responsibility to stop this behavior.

Verbal Harassment

Verbal harassment is often the result of personality conflicts that have escalated into something serious. Even though this harassment is not illegal, a verbal harasser usually involves a consistently unpleasant individual who is constantly throwing insults, swearing, yelling, or making public and private threats. These insults can be particularly damaging since they often go unnoticed by supervisors. It is also important to remember that if this harassment is based on a protected class, it is illegal.

How Can an Experienced Employment Lawyer Help?

If you are getting harassed at work, and you have taken the necessary actions to get this behavior to stop. Yet, your employer has not appropriately responded. You need to contact an experienced employment lawyer today. The legal team at Perkins Asbill is ready to provide you with the legal representation that you need and the help that you deserve. Do not wait any longer; call our office at 916-446-2000.


What do employment arbitration agreements have to do with sexual harassment?

Typically, an arbitration clause is an agreement to not pursue any legal action against your employer in court. Instead, it forces you to take your dispute into private arbitration, where a binding decision is made by a supposedly neutral third party. That means that you can’t sue even for something as awful as sexual harassment. When combined with a confidentiality clause, it’s a great shield for your employer but not so great for you.

Arbitration clauses are perfectly legal, but they don’t leave the employees stuck with them much choice. A prospective employee that’s presented with one in his or her contract either agrees to the clause or loses the job offer. If you’re like most people, you’ll sign and lock yourself in.

For that matter, you may not even have to sign anything to be bound to an arbitration clause. Some employers sneak them into the materials you’re handed when you take the job alongside the instructions on where to park, and they can be just as binding.

In many cases, the employer has the upper hand and gets to pick the arbitrator, so the company can choose one that is typically “employer friendly.” Your employer also enjoys the benefits of access to documents and records you may not be able to see without the discovery process that’s allowed during the course of a civil suit.

Nobody even seems to be certain how many employees are prevented from exercising their rights by arbitration clauses. One study estimates that it could be as many as one quarter of all non-unionized workers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also believes that mandatory arbitration clauses promote secrecy and hurt employees but hasn’t been able to overcome them in court.

Just the same, some victims of sexual harassment have found ways around their arbitration clauses. In one notable example, television commentator and author Gretchen Carlson was able to skirt the arbitration clause in her contract with Fox News by directly suing Roger Ailes, the co-founder, chief executive officer and chairman of Fox, instead of suing the company itself.

If you’re the victim of sexual harassment, don’t assume your arbitration agreement will stop you from filing a civil suit until after you’ve consulted with an attorney.


Most people realize that actions like grabbing someone’s genitals, fondling someone’s breast or forcing a kiss on someone’s lips are inherently sexual. But does a physical advance on someone have to be inherently sexual in nature in order to constitute sexual harassment?

No, it doesn’t. Even an action that could in no way be described as “alluring” can form the basis of a sexual harassment claim. So can non-sexual physical contact that merely serves as a pretext for getting the victim in closer.

An appeals court finally settled that question when an employee filed a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim against her employer after her direct supervisor made unwanted “personal grooming” requests of her — during which he made statements that made it clear that he had the power to either have her fired or help her keep her job.

The lower court had rejected the employee’s claim because the supervisor’s request, while intimate, was definitely not the most sexually overt or enticing thing he could have done: He called the female employee into his office on the pretext of having her pluck an ingrown hair out of his chin.

When she declined to assist him, he put tweezers in her hand and reminded her that he could end her employment there. When she went to leave, he put his arms on her shoulder and neck and kissed her on the side of the face and forehead without further mention of her job. She was fired a few weeks later.

It was the third instance of unwanted contact from him. The employee had reported the prior two to her employer, with no effect.

The lower court found that, since there was no overt request for sexual favors in exchange for keeping her job, no quid pro quo case existed. The higher court reversed the ruling, pointing out that a reasonable jury could conclude that the rather bizarre grooming request was just designed to bring the victim in close enough for her harasser to act and that the mention of her job security was enough to establish the quid pro quo case.

Anyone who believes that he or she is being pressed for physical favors in exchange for job security, regardless of whether those acts are explicitly sexual or not, may have a claim for sexual harassment. An attorney can provide you with more information on your legal options.

Source: Workplace Fairness, “Sexual Harassment – Legal Standards,” accessed Feb. 05, 2017


Scientists — especially women scientists — hope that 2017 is the year that things change so that sexual harassment and gender bias among scientists starts to become a relic of the past.

2016 was the year a peephole opened up to reveal an ugly view of the role sexual harassment plays in the scientific community. The response has been tremendously vocal and proactive, with the hopes of changing the situation once and for all.

Among other revealing research, a study on female scientists found that 71 percent had been sexually harassed in the field and 26 percent had been sexually assaulted. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported two-thirds of female biomedical researchers had personally experienced gender bias and one-third had experienced outright sexual harassment, including sexist comments and pressure for sexual favors.

The net effect of the unchecked sexual harassment in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and other related fields is that it’s damaging to everyone. Young women who experience harassment early in their careers are put in the position of either capitulating to the demands made or angering their older, male mentors — the very people who are supposed to help open doors for them in their field.

Nearly half of the women who had been sexually harassed said it affected their career advancement and more than half said it affected their confidence level. Many say that there is a sense among women in the sciences that sexual harassment is a price that has to be paid in order to remain in their fields — so many ultimately don’t. They drop out and move into other jobs or move into private industry instead. When bright people flee the science fields rather than deal with the sexual harassment, progress as a whole suffers.

In response to the growing concern over sexual harassment in the scientific community, the American Geophysical Union, the American Astronomical Society, the Biophysical Society and the American Physical Society have all created new codes of conduct and clarified the consequences of violating those codes. The ultimate goal is to create a cultural shift that won’t be as accepting of the status quo and an environment that will encourage more women to stay in their chosen scientific fields.

If you’ve experienced sexual harassment or demands for quid pro quo sexual favorsfrom your mentors and supervisors in your field, an attorney can tell you about your legal options.

Source: WIRED, “Month By Month, 2016 Cemented Science’s Sexual Harassment Problem,” Sarah Scoles, Dec. 29, 2016


The U.S. Department of Agriculture is being held accountable by members of the U.S. Congress over years of sexual harassment complaints. One of the central parts of the congressional investigation was an extremely disturbing and tearful testimony brought forward by a wildland firefighter.

The female firefighter from California’s Eldorado National Forest told the story of a male supervisor her who fondled her breasts with a letter opener while smiling like he knew he was going to get away with the act. The woman said that all she could do was stand there in shock after the incident.

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were especially shocked when they discovered that the woman’s harasser was permitted to retire from his position with no punishment and later came back to the department as a motivational speaker.

Unfortunately, the woman’s story is not the only one of this type to be shared during the hearing. Numerous employees of the Department of Agriculture told the committee about their experiences with sexual discrimination, harassment and even sexual assault. Some women had been raped by their coworkers but were afraid to testify because they had been threatened that their careers would be destroyed in retaliation.

Instances of sexual assault and harassment on the job like those described above are unconscionable, illegal and horrifying. No one in California or anywhere else in the world should ever have to experience such abuse. Those who are being sexually harassed, sexually discriminated against or sexually abused on the job, have every power to make it stop right now, and they will never have to experience it again. The law is on your side, and those who have suffered this abuse can file legal claims to protect themselves and seek financial compensation for the abuse they have endured.

Source: The Washington Post, “Forest Service slammed over sexual-harassment and civil rights complaints,” Joe Davidson, Dec. 02, 2016


If you feel you are being harassed sexually in the workplace, then one of the first things you might consider doing is reporting the behavior to the appropriate supervisor or human resource representative at your company. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the case if the harassment is coming from that person or if you don’t feel safe making the report for another reason, and you should never hesitate to consult with an outside employment law professional if you aren’t sure about the next best steps.

Once you do report possible sexual harassment within the workplace, then be prepared for and expect your employer to take action. First, whoever you reported the incident to should follow company protocol in reporting it up the chain of command appropriately. That doesn’t always means reporting the incident all the way up through leadership; often, it means providing the information to an HR or compliance officer so an investigation can take place.

Do expect your employer to follow confidentiality procedures. While some people might need to be made aware of some details of the incident so that an investigation and corrective action can proceed, your supervisor or others shouldn’t share the information with everyone in the building. If you feel discretion isn’t being followed, talking to someone in leadership.

Finally, do expect that you won’t be retaliated against for making the report — that’s actually illegal. If you are retaliated against, then consider speaking immediately with a lawyer to plan your next actions. You have a right as a worker to make such a report in good faith and have your employer investigate the matter without turning against you.

Source: HR Hero, “Top 10 tips for conducting an effective sexual harassment investigation,” Lauren M. Cooper, accessed Nov. 11, 2016


Sexual harassment scenarios can be divided into two broad categories, one of them being quid pro quo harassment. This is often the easiest to identify as a victim, but it’s not always easy to prove.

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase. Loosely translated into English, the phrase means “something for something.” It means that you give up or do something in order to receive something in return. That alone isn’t illegal – quid pro quo relationships exist all the time in business and some of them are even formalized by legal contracts. One person might provide a certain piece of work; in return, he or she is paid an agreed upon amount of money.

What is illegal is making sex or anything of a sexual nature part of a quid pro quo working relationship. Someone cannot demand sexual favors or even sexual attention such as flirting, a romantic night out or sexy pictures in exchange for giving you a job. You also can’t be fired from a job because you refused to provide sexual favors or engage in a sexual or romantic relationship with someone.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment doesn’t always come with strings attached to your job, though. It’s still sexual harassment if someone demands sexual favors in exchange for higher pay, a better office, a new title or just keeping something about your work a secret.

If someone is demanding sexual favors in the workplace, then speak to your supervisor or human resource representative. You have a right not to be retaliated against for speaking up about harassment, and if you feel there is no good option for addressing this in the workplace, consider reaching out to a lawyer for advice.

Source: FindLaw, “What is Quid Pro Quo Harassment?,” accessed Oct. 28, 2016


Yes, there’s a difference between quid pro quo sexual harassment and someone mooning over you in the workplace. The first is illegal and you have a lot of legal protection in dealing with it. The second is uncomfortable and, while it could eventually turn into a sexual harassment situation, does not necessarily involve the same legal protections while it’s simply a possible romantic interest you don’t return.

One expert on managing people in the workplace notes that simply being noncommittal all the time to avoid negative issues doesn’t work. If someone indicates interest in you or asks you out, there are only so many excuses you can make. Certainly, you can start with this tactic and hope they get the hint, but not everyone does, and continuing to avoid direct communication can even hedge the situation into harassment territory.

Instead, be honest but kind. In the most tactful way possible, tell the person that you are not interested and that you are beginning to feel like he or she is creating a hostile environment for you at work. After you’ve taken the steps to clearly communicate your lack of interest, if the person doesn’t stop his or her attentions, then speak with your supervisor or someone in human resources. A continued interest sexually or romantically after you have clearly declined could be harassment.

If you are dealing with something more than a sweet but misplaced interest, then consider speaking with a third party to find out about your options in California. If you are being propositioned for sex in exchange for some reward at work or feel you are being forced into romantic or sexual situations, then you might have the base for a sexual harassment case.

Source: Ask a Manager, “How to reject a coworker who’s romantically interested in you,” accessed Sep. 23, 2016


Sexual harassment cases are often difficult to prove for a host of reasons. One of the issues that many people have is that the commonplace definition of sexual harassment often encompasses more events and types of actions than the legal definition. This makes it hard for a layperson to understand what types of activities would warrant legal action.

When it comes to sexual harassment, general claims are more difficult to prove than quid pro quo claims. This is because general sexual harassment claims would likely need to include more than one event in order to be considered actual sexual harassment in a court. Of course, one single event that is very serious in nature could be used to present an effective case.

Quid pro quo claims are often easier to prove than others because there would have been some blatant communication that said “if you do this specific sexual favor, you will get this specific employment reward.” Of course, it is possible that even these claims will be difficult to prove because the communication might be only verbal.

The burden of proof on the plaintiff in sexual harassment cases is high. This is the main reason why weaker claims regarding sexual harassment might not make it through the court system and result in a positive ruling for the plaintiff.

In California, companies have a legal obligation to take steps to prevent sexual harassment. If those steps aren’t in place, a sexual harassment claim might be a bit easier to prove. People who are being sexually harassed shouldn’t hesitate to take action, even if the case will be difficult to prove. Instead, work with someone familiar with these cases so that all appropriate methods of showing proof can be executed in your case.

Source: CNN, “What makes sex harassment cases tough to win,” Danny Cevallos, accessed Aug. 19, 2016


Many people hve heard about the recent sexual harassment scandal that led to the resignation last month of Fox News chief Roger Ailes from the network he started. It began with a lawsuit by former anchor Gretchen Carlson, whose contract was not renewed. She accused Ailes of harassing her and then retaliating against her. After Carlson filed her suit, almost 20 additional women claimed to have harassed by Ailes.

The network ordered an independent investigation into Carlson’s claims, which has included interviews with other female staffers. Current and former employees have gone public with stories of sexual harassment, including, reportedly, one of the network’s biggest stars, Megyn Kelly.

Often, when one person, particularly someone high up in an organization, engages in sexual harassment, the problem goes deeper. There may be a culture throughout the organization that allows harassment to occur and even enables it. (It should be noted that Ailes has denied the allegations against him.)

There have been conflicting reports about whether the law firm conducting the investigation at Fox News is looking into whether that culture existed or still exists at the network or whether the investigation is “winding down,” as one report said.

Employees who are suffering sexual harassment or any type of harassment or discrimination in the workplace have to be able to count on those in authority and on the human resources team to properly investigate and take action on their claims. When a culture exists in a workplace that looks the other way or even retaliates against an employee for reporting unacceptable and illegal behavior, that employee may have no choice but to take legal action. California attorneys with experience in handling sexual harassment cases can help people take that action and seek justice and compensation.

Source: Talking Points Memo, “NYT: Investigators Probing If Fox News Execs Enabled Ailes’ Alleged Harassment,” Katherine Krueger, Aug. 04, 2016