Simple Tips for Dealing with Harassment in the Workplace
July 26, 2017

Quiz: Is it harassment?

1. Pete is a reserved, quiet kind of guy. This afternoon as he returned from lunch, he paused to tell John a joke with a “gray” theme. John claims to know every tasteless joke, but Pete’s pretty sure he hasn’t heard this one. As Pete is telling the punch line to the joke, Diane overhears it. She stops dead in her tracks and turns beet red as the men laugh together at the joke. When Pete and Joe notice Diane nearby, they turn equally red and quickly apologize to Diane for telling such a joke that she unfortunately overheard.

2. Joe, Jim, and John work together on the construction site for the new store in a local shopping center. They are installing the roof. It is hard work and during breaks, they like to sit and watch all of the ladies pass by to go shopping in a nearby dress shop. They have been known to whistle and make suggestive comments to the females that pass by them. For them, it relieves the stress. No female has told them to stop. The dress shop owner has complained that she is losing business because of the comments made by the Joe, Jim, and John.


1. No harassment. There was no intent to harass anyone. Diane overheard the joke and was upset, but there was a sincere apology and it was over.
No action needed at this time, but if the jokes continue and Diane overhears others, then it could be a hostile work environment. Policies usually frown on off color jokes.

2. Yes, hostile work environment. The store keeper is losing business because of the harassing behavior of the workers. Although not employed by the store, they are third party workers and are causing business interruption.
The shop keeper should notify the Construction Company or on-site supervisor. This should be reported to the company. The company needs to educate the workers or if they are sub-contractors, the sub-contractor and insist there be some education. Set a policy that is written for behavior expected on the job sites.

Title VII – Civil Rights Act, 1964

  • Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The courts have interpreted discrimination based on sex to include sexual harassment.
  • In 1980, the EEOC released new guidelines which identified sexual harassment as an illegal form of sex discrimination.
  • Harassment can be committed by supervisors, subordinates, co-workers, client/customers, vendors or same sex.
  • Harassment can be experienced by direct targets of the harassment, bystanders, witnesses, other employees and family members.
  • The courts have interpreted discrimination based on sex to include sexual harassment.

The criteria for sexual harassment can include:

  • Submission to the conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of the individual’s employment
  • Submission to or rejection of the conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual
  • The conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

4 Important Things To Do If You Are Being Harassed

Communicate: Make your feelings absolutely clear to the harasser and demand that the behavior stops.

Document: Document the harassing behavior – include the time/day, location, what the behavior was and any possible witnesses. Memory is not always a reliable tool, especially for a traumatic experience. Documentation leaves no doubt as to exactly what happened.

Review: Review your organization’s policies on harassment. Understanding your rights will help you stay safe.

Report: Report the harassment to your boss, or Human Resources or upper management. Enlisting management aid should ensure an end to the offending behavior as well as action against the offender.

Wynn Schoolnik

Wynn Schoolnik


With 35+ years of HR experience, Wynn is an expert in staffing and recruiting. He has placed candidates at all levels within various business sectors.


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