Know the Different Types of Workplace Harassment, Part 2

What dealers need to understand about harassment based on race, disability, age, religion, and national origin


In Part 1, the author discussed workplace harassment based on sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This month, she examines harassment based on race, disability, age, religion, and national origin. To the first part of this article, go here.

Race-, Ethnicity-, Religion-, or National Origin–Based Harassment

What it is: The Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC) specifies that “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, national origin, race, [or] color,” and that “[t]he law’s prohibitions include harassment or any other employment action based on any of the following:

  • Affiliation: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because an individual is affiliated with a particular religious or ethnic group.
  • Physical or cultural traits and clothing: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because of physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics, such as accent or dress associated with a particular religion, ethnicity, or country of origin.
  • Perception: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because of the perception or belief that a person is a member of a particular racial, national origin, or religious group whether or not that perception is correct.
  • Association: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because of an individual’s association with a person or organization of a particular religion or ethnicity.”

What it looks like: Verbal abuse, including the use of racial slurs and derogatory language; mockery of an individual’s accent or spoken language; pressure to “fit in” through cultural assimilation (e.g., goading a Muslim employee into eating pork); and so on.

How often it occurs: While the EEOC states that “race-based and ethnicity-based harassment are significantly understudied,” the Commission suggests that between 40% and 70% of survey respondents have experienced it.

A further “69% of respondents reported witnessing at least one ethnically-harassing behavior in the last two years at work and 36% of respondents who reported that they had not experienced direct harassment indicated that they had knowledge about the harassment of other co-workers.”

On the topic of religion-motivated harassment, however, the EEOC claims that it was “not able to identify empirical data based on probability or convenience samples on the prevalence of such harassment.”

Disability-Based Harassment

What it is: Per the EEOC: “It is illegal to harass an applicant or employee because he has a disability, had a disability in the past, or is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).”

As with all forms of harassment, disability-based harassment does not necessarily include “simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious,” but becomes illegal “when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”

What it looks like: Use of derogatory language such as “cripple” or “retard”; mockery of an individual’s speech impediment, posture, gait, disfigurement, or other linguistic or physical characteristic; tampering with disability equipment (e.g., a wheelchair); theft of equipment or medication; jokes made at the expense of a visually or hearing-impaired individual—with or without their knowledge; and so on.

How often it occurs: According to the EEOC, “Evidence on the prevalence of disability-based harassment in the workplace was even harder to find than studies of racial and ethnic harassment. In a survey based on a convenience sample of one university’s faculty and staff, 20% of respondents with disabilities reported experiencing harassment or unfair treatment at work because of their disability.

In addition, 6% of all respondents reported having observed harassment or similar unfair treatment of a coworker with a disability. In a similar study, conducted at a different university, 14% of respondents with disabilities reported experiencing harassment or similar unfair treatment at work because of their disability, and 5% of all respondents reported having observed harassment or similar unfair treatment of coworkers with disabilities.”

Additionally, “[i]n the most recent analysis, the odds of a person with behavioral disabilities (anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric impairments) filing a harassment charge were close to 1.5 times greater than the odds of a person with another type of disability filing a harassment charge.”

Age-Based Harassment

What it is: Harassment based on an individual’s age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees and job applicants aged 40 and over from age-related discrimination, and by extension, this kind of harassment. The law applies to employers with at least 20 employees, employment agencies, government organizations (on the federal, state, and local levels), and labor organizations with at least 25 members.

What it looks like: Use of derogatory language (such as “old man,” “grandpa,” or “grandma”); mean-spirited jokes, comments, or gestures; offensive caricatures; exclusion from events or activities on the assumption that the individual is too “slow” or “frail” to participate; pressure to retire; and so on.

How often it occurs: The EEOC reports that it identified two surveys on age-based harassment in the workplace, conducted by AARP: “In a survey based on a convenience sample of workers older than 50, 8% of respondents reported having been exposed to unwelcome comments about their age. When the same question was asked in a survey based on a convenience sample of workers older than 50 in New York City, close to 25% reported that they or a family member had been subjected to unwelcome comments about their age in the workplace.”


It’s up to all of us to stop harassment. Creating a safe and productive workplace that’s free from harassment requires more than just sending your employees through training and displaying the harassment policy in the breakroom.

A solid harassment prevention initiative educates, reinforces, and demonstrates your dealership’s commitment to maintaining a safe and productive workplace.

Kynzie Sims is Complí’s legal content product manager, and an attorney and Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional with experience in HR, employment law, and software compliance platforms. To learn how to stop harassment in the workplace, visit Complí at www.compli.com.

Kynzie Sims

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