Know the Different Types of Workplace Harassment

Part 1: Sex-, gender identity–, and sexual orientation–based harassment


News about harassment is everywhere these days. Why? Because harassment is everywhere.

Although the problem has been recognized for decades, it seems like we’re living in a historic time for workplace harassment awareness: a watershed moment in which millions of people are realizing how pervasive the problem is.

From Silicon Valley boardrooms to Hollywood studios to Ford manufacturing plants, victims’ recent stories have made it clear that harassment can happen in every kind of workplace.

Sometimes, harassment is overt: think unwanted touching, physical intimidation, or verbal threats. Other times, it assumes subtler, but no less destructive forms: inappropriate questions during interviews, cyberstalking, exclusion, or policies and “unwritten” rules that allow those in power to dodge accountability and ignore alleged harassers’ behavior.

Whatever it looks like, wherever it occurs, harassment takes a massive toll—not only on those who experience it, but the organizations for which they work. In 2016, more than 6,700 charges of sexual harassment were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In that year, the EEOC obtained more than $40.7 million dollars in monetary benefits on behalf of sexually harassed employees.

Keep in mind that this statistic doesn’t include the millions of dollars obtained by harassed employees through litigation. And, for the victim, there are also less visible, indirect costs incurred by harassment, including reputational harm, missed opportunities, mental health issues, and physical health problems.

If you’ve been following the news or paying attention to your social media feeds, you probably know much of this already. But sexual harassment, the kind the #TimesUp and #MeToo campaigns seek to address, is only one type of harassment.

Workplace harassment based on race, disability, age, religion, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation can occur just as frequently, and in the eyes of the law, it’s just as serious.

Don’t forget: Harassment is a form of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

According to the EEOC, “of the total number of charges received in FY2015 that alleged harassment from employees working for private employers or for state and local government employers, approximately:

  • 45% alleged harassment on the basis of sex,
  • 34% alleged harassment on the basis of race,
  • 19% alleged harassment on the basis of disability,
  • 15% alleged harassment on the basis of age,
  • 13% alleged harassment on the basis of national origin, and 5% alleged harassment on the basis of religion.”

With that in mind, I’d like (re)introduce you to the various kinds of workplace harassment, so you’ll know what to look out for at your dealership or other automotive business. The following definitions and statistics come from the EEOC and its “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace” June 2017 report, the same report quoted earlier in this article.

Sex-Based Harassment

What it is: The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964”:

“Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

What it looks like: Inappropriate touching and gestures; sexual assault and other forms of unwelcome sexual contact; lewd jokes, stories, and comments; the sharing or displaying of sexually inappropriate media at work; questions about an individual’s sexual history; and so on.

How often it occurs: According the EEOC, “anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” The percentage tends to increase when researchers ask employees if they’ve experienced specific behaviors “such as unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion,” or when the question is posed in terms in terms of gender rather than sex.

Gender Identity–Based and Sexual Orientation–Based Harassment

What it is: Per the EEOC’s website, the Commission “interprets and enforces Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. These protections apply regardless of any contrary state or local laws.”

Although distinct from sex-based harassment, the EEOC writes that “such harassment may include sexually-based behaviors (such as unwanted sexual touching or demands for sexual favors) as well as gender-based harassment (such as calling a lesbian a ‘d*ke’ or a gay man a ‘f*g’).”

What it looks like: Verbal abuse, e.g., name-calling and use of derogatory language; physical abuse; vandalization of LGBT individuals’ property or workspaces; denying an employee access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity; social ostracization or exclusion of certain employees from certain workplace jobs on the basis of those employees’ gender or sexual orientation; and so on.


How often it occurs: According to the EEOC, between 7% and 58% of LGBT individuals have reported experiencing harassment at work. Surveys consistently indicate that transgender employees face higher rates of harassment, with 7% reporting physical assaulted at work because of their gender identity, and 6% reporting sexual assaulted. A further 41% “reported having been asked unwelcome questions about their transgender or surgical status,” while “45% reported having been referred to by the wrong pronouns ‘repeatedly and on purpose’ at work.”

(In Part 2 next month, we’ll examine types of workplace harassment based on race, disability, age, religion, and national origin.)

Kynzie Sims serves as Complí’s legal content product manager. Her credentials as an attorney and Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional coupled with her experience in HR, employment law, and software compliance platforms provide the background necessary to make her effective in her role as our resident workforce compliance expert. To learn more about how to stop harassment in the workplace and see a demo, visit Complí at www.compli.com.

Kynzie Sims

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