11 Types of Workplace Harassment (And How to Stop Them)

Jeffrey Fermin
Jeffrey Fermin
March 31, 2023
10 Min Read
11 Types of Workplace Harassment (And How to Stop Them)

Workplace harassment is a pressing issue in today's professional environment. It can take various forms, and its impact on employees can be devastating, leading to decreased productivity, low morale, and even legal consequences for employers.

This blog post aims to explore 11 different types of workplace harassment and provide effective strategies to prevent and address them. By understanding these types and taking necessary action, organizations can create a safer, more inclusive, and healthier work environment for all.

#1 Discriminatory Harassment

Discriminatory harassment occurs when an employee is targeted based on their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, or any other protected characteristic. This can manifest in various ways, including offensive jokes, derogatory comments, or unequal treatment.

How to stop it: Employers must implement strict anti-discrimination policies and promote diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Additionally, organizations should train employees to recognize and report discriminatory behavior and address such incidents promptly and effectively.

#2 Personal Harassment

Personal harassment, also known as workplace bullying, involves targeting an individual for reasons unrelated to their protected characteristics. This may include repeated offensive behavior, ridicule, humiliation, or other forms of psychological abuse.

How to stop it: To prevent personal harassment, employers should establish a zero-tolerance policy against bullying and provide regular training on respectful workplace behaviors. Moreover, employees should be encouraged to report any instances of bullying, and employers must ensure that such reports are taken seriously and addressed appropriately.

#3 Physical Harassment

Physical harassment involves unwanted physical contact, such as touching, hitting, pushing, or any other aggressive behavior that causes physical harm or discomfort to the targeted individual.

How to stop it: Employers must enforce strict policies against physical harassment and provide a safe work environment for employees. Ensure that all staff members understand that physical harassment is unacceptable and that violations will result in severe consequences.

#4 Power Harassment

Power harassment occurs when a person in a position of authority abuses their power to intimidate, threaten, or coerce a subordinate. This can involve unreasonable demands, public humiliation, or threats of retaliation.

How to stop it: To prevent power harassment, organizations should promote a culture of respect and encourage open communication between employees and their superiors. Regular performance evaluations, 360-degree feedback, and anonymous reporting channels can also help identify and address power harassment incidents.

#5 Psychological Harassment

Psychological harassment, also known as emotional or mental harassment, involves subjecting an employee to ongoing distressing behavior. This can include manipulation, excessive criticism, exclusion, or the creation of a hostile work environment.

How to stop it: Employers should encourage employees to share their concerns and offer support through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or mental health resources. Regular training on emotional intelligence and conflict resolution can help employees develop the skills needed to address psychological harassment effectively.

#6 Online + Digital Harassment

Online or digital harassment takes place through electronic communication channels, such as email, social media, or messaging apps. This can include cyberbullying, sharing offensive content, or spreading false rumors about an individual.

How to stop it: Employers should establish clear policies regarding online communication, including guidelines for professional conduct and the consequences of violating these guidelines. Encourage employees to report instances of online harassment, and ensure that complaints are addressed swiftly and effectively.

#7 Retaliation Harassment

Retaliation harassment occurs when an employee is targeted for reporting harassment, participating in a harassment investigation, or supporting a victim. This can involve demotion, exclusion, or other forms of adverse treatment.

How to stop it: Employers should implement strong anti-retaliation policies and ensure that employees are aware of their rights to report harassment without fear of retaliation. Organizations must also establish a confidential reporting system and take immediate action to address any instances of retaliation.

#8 Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment includes any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This can range from inappropriate comments and jokes to non-consensual touching or assault.

How to stop it: Employers must establish a clear and comprehensive policy against sexual harassment, including guidelines on appropriate workplace behavior and the consequences of violating these guidelines. Regular training on sexual harassment prevention and bystander intervention can help create a culture of respect and support within the organization.

#9 Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a person in a position of authority offers or implies that employment benefits, such as promotions or salary increases, are contingent upon the recipient's submission to unwelcome sexual advances or conduct.

How to stop it: Employers should establish strict policies against quid pro quo harassment and ensure that all employees, especially those in management positions, understand the legal and ethical implications of such behavior. Any allegations of quid pro quo harassment must be investigated thoroughly and dealt with promptly.

#10 Third-Party Harassment

Third-party harassment refers to harassment experienced by an employee due to the actions of a non-employee, such as a client, customer, or vendor. This can include offensive comments, unwelcome advances, or any other harassing behavior.

How to stop it: Employers should inform third parties of their organization's anti-harassment policies and ensure that employees are aware of their rights to report any incidents involving external individuals. Employers must also be prepared to address any complaints and, if necessary, take action against the offending third party.

#11 Verbal Harassment

Verbal harassment involves the use of offensive language, insults, or derogatory comments directed at an individual. This can occur in person, via phone calls, or through electronic communication channels.

How to stop it: Employers should establish policies that promote a respectful work environment and clearly outline the consequences of engaging in verbal harassment. Encourage employees to report any instances of verbal harassment and take appropriate action to address such incidents.

Overall Strategy to Prevent Workplace Harassment

Creating a harassment-free workplace requires a comprehensive approach that includes:

  • Establishing clear policies: Develop and enforce strong anti-harassment policies that cover all forms of harassment. These policies should outline the reporting process, consequences for violators, and protections against retaliation.
  • Training and education: Provide regular training for employees and management on recognizing and addressing harassment. Encourage bystander intervention and educate employees on their rights and responsibilities.
  • Open communication: Promote a culture of open communication, allowing employees to express their concerns without fear of retaliation. Establish anonymous reporting channels and provide support for victims of harassment.
  • Prompt and effective response: Address all complaints of harassment seriously and take swift action to investigate and resolve incidents. Communicate the outcomes of investigations to the parties involved and ensure that appropriate measures are taken to prevent future occurrences.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: Regularly assess the effectiveness of your organization's harassment prevention efforts and make any necessary adjustments to policies, training, and communication strategies.

High-Profile Harassment Cases That Have Devastated Companies

Over the years, several high-profile harassment cases have had significant negative impacts on companies, leading to reputational damage, financial losses, and, in some cases, significant organizational restructuring. Here are three examples of such cases:

Fox News

In 2016, Fox News faced a massive scandal when its former CEO, Roger Ailes, was accused of sexual harassment by multiple female employees, including prominent on-air personalities Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly.

The allegations led to Ailes' resignation and a $20 million settlement for Carlson. Additionally, the company faced ongoing criticism and scrutiny, resulting in the dismissal of popular host Bill O'Reilly due to similar allegations. The scandal had significant implications for Fox News, including reputational damage, loss of key personnel, and financial costs associated with settlements and legal fees.


In 2017, a former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, published a blog post detailing her experiences with sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the company. The post went viral, leading to a series of investigations that uncovered a toxic workplace culture and multiple instances of harassment and discrimination.

As a result, Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick, resigned, and the company implemented significant changes to its management structure and corporate policies. The scandal also contributed to a drop in the company's market valuation and hampered its growth in several markets.

The Weinstein Company

In 2017, the New York Times and the New Yorker published explosive reports detailing decades of sexual harassment and assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. The revelations had far-reaching consequences for Weinstein's company, leading to his firing and subsequent bankruptcy of the company. The case not only had devastating consequences for the Weinstein Company but also sparked the global #MeToo movement, which led to increased scrutiny of workplace harassment in various industries.

These cases illustrate the severe consequences that harassment scandals can have on companies, emphasizing the importance of proactively addressing workplace harassment and fostering a safe, inclusive work environment.

Conducting an Effective Workplace Harassment Investigation

An effective workplace harassment investigation is crucial for addressing complaints and maintaining a safe, inclusive work environment. Employers must take all allegations seriously and ensure that their investigative process is thorough, impartial, and timely. Here are the essential steps to conducting a successful investigation:

Develop a plan

Before starting the investigation, create a plan outlining the scope, objectives, and timeline. Determine who will lead the investigation, whether it's someone from within the organization, such as an HR professional, or an external investigator.

Gather information

Begin by reviewing the written complaint, if available, or interviewing the complainant to obtain a clear understanding of the allegations. Collect any relevant documents, such as emails, text messages, or other written evidence. Identify potential witnesses and prepare a list of questions to ask during the interviews.

Conduct interviews

Interview the complainant, the accused, and any witnesses separately to ensure confidentiality and minimize potential influence on their responses. Be impartial, respectful, and maintain a neutral tone throughout the interviews. Take detailed notes or record the conversations, with the participants' consent.

Evaluate the evidence

After gathering all the relevant information, analyze the evidence to determine if the allegations are substantiated, unsubstantiated, or inconclusive. Consider the credibility of the witnesses, the consistency of the accounts, and any corroborating or contradicting evidence.

Make a determination

Based on the evidence, make a determination regarding the validity of the complaint. The outcome of the investigation can be:

  • Substantiated: There is sufficient evidence to support the allegations.
  • Unsubstantiated: There is insufficient evidence to support the allegations, but this does not necessarily mean the complaint was false.
  • Inconclusive: There is not enough evidence to either support or refute the allegations.

Develop a resolution plan

If the allegations are substantiated, develop a plan to address the situation, which may include disciplinary action against the perpetrator, such as a written warning, suspension, or termination. The resolution plan should also include measures to prevent future harassment, such as additional training, policy updates, or changes to the work environment.

Communicate the outcome

Inform the complainant and the accused of the outcome of the investigation and any actions taken as a result. Ensure that both parties understand the findings and the steps taken to resolve the issue. Reiterate your organization's commitment to maintaining a harassment-free workplace.

Monitor and follow-up

Monitor the workplace to ensure that the issue has been resolved and that no retaliation occurs against either the complainant or any witnesses. Follow up with the individuals involved to ensure they are satisfied with the outcome and address any concerns that may arise.

Document the investigation

Maintain thorough documentation of the entire investigation process, including the complaint, interviews, evidence, findings, and resolution. This documentation can be crucial in the event of future legal proceedings or if similar issues arise in the future.

Review and learn

After completing the investigation, review the process to identify any areas for improvement. Use the lessons learned to refine your organization's harassment prevention policies and investigative procedures, as well as enhance training and communication efforts.

By following these steps, employers can conduct thorough, impartial, and effective harassment investigations, ensuring that complaints are addressed appropriately and fostering a safe, inclusive, and respectful work environment.

Using AllVoices to Investigate and Manage Harassment Claims

AllVoices is an innovative platform that can streamline the process of workplace harassment investigations and reporting.

AllVoices encourages employees to voice their concerns without fear of retaliation. This leads to more accurate insights into workplace issues and allows organizations to address incidents promptly and effectively. The platform also facilitates communication between the reporter and the investigator, ensuring a thorough and timely resolution.

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