As reports of harassment in the workplace become more common, people think they fully understand what harassment is and how to ensure their organization can prevent it and respond appropriately. But what is harassment, legally speaking? And how can workplaces protect themselves from it?

Understanding Harassment Legally

Harassment is not only about unwelcoming or inappropriate sexual conduct, but can also be based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, or genetic information.

To be unlawful, the unwelcomed conduct in the workplace has to be both:

  • Subjectively offensive or abusive to the person affected, and;
  • Objectively severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person finds abusive, offensive, or hostile.

To determine whether an episode of harassment is severe or pervasive, it’s necessary to take into account the following factors, on a case-to-case basis:

  • the frequency of the unwelcoming conduct;
  • its seriousness;
  • the professional position of the harasser (e.g. whether the harasser was in any type of leadership within the organization; but note that the harasser can be anyone in the workplace); and,
  • the effect of the conduct on the employee’s workplace performance or psychological wellbeing.

Workplace Harassment Examples

When thinking about the types of workplace harassment to prevent, it’s helpful to consider three main categories of offending behavior:

Verbal/Written Harassment

  • Sending emails with offensive language, including but not limiting to jokes or graphics about gender identity, race, religions, and so on;
  • Making derogatory comments about someone’s appearance
  • Repeatedly requesting dates or sexual favors in person or through text messages
  • Asking about someone’s personal medical history

Physical Harassment

  • Nonconsensual or unwelcome touching of a person or their clothing
  • Making sexually suggestive facial expressions
  • Frequently standing or staying too close to a person on purpose

Visual Harassment

  • Wearing clothes with offensive or vulgar language
  • Showing sexually suggestive text messages, pictures, or feeds
  • Displaying posters or pictures of offensive or sexual nature

The takeaway

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate harassment in the workplace; employers should take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment. Talking to a lawyer can help you better understand your employees’ workplace rights. Find your ideal lawyer for free at

Preventing Harassment in the Workplace

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Gloria Qiao J.D.

Gloria is the founder of, seasoned lawyer, business person and entrepreneur, determined to bring legal help to you at an affordable cost efficiently.

Gloria Qiao J.D.

Gloria is the founder of, seasoned lawyer, business person and entrepreneur, determined to bring legal help to you at an affordable cost efficiently.

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