Learn what constitutes harassment, discrimination, or inappropriate conduct (including sexual harassment, racial discrimination, bullying, and more).
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, national origin, accent, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, equal pay/compensation, or genetic information (including family medical history). Harassment is a form of employment discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended), and ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ADAAA. 42 U.S.C. ch 126 12101 et seq.
Harassment becomes unlawful when:
- enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, OR
- the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.
Forms of Harassment
The following are examples of inappropriate conduct that may meet the definition of harassment if an incident is severe or pervasive.
- Sexual Harassment/Harassment based on sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, transgender status, and sexual orientation). Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors
- Making repeated attempts to establish an unwanted relationship
- Making offensive comments or asking questions about someone's sexual history, orientation, or gender identity
- Intentionally misusing a person’s requested pronouns
- Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, such as pornography, with others in the workplace
- Sending suggestive letters, notes, texts, or emails or displaying inappropriate sexual images in the workplace
- Telling lewd jokes or sharing sexual anecdotes
- Making inappropriate sexual gestures
- Staring in a sexually suggestive or offensive manner or inappropriate whistling
- Making sexual comments about appearance, clothing, or body parts
- Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully brushing up against another person.
- Harassment based on race, ethnicity, color, and/or national origin. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Making derogatory epithets, slurs, remarks, stereotypes, labels, jokes, or innuendos related to a person’s race, ethnicity, culture, or national origin
- Making comments, jokes, teasing someone about a person’s dress, personal appearance, hairstyle, speech, or other practices that are related to their race, ethnicity, culture, and/or national origin
- Displaying racist or discriminatory symbols or imagery
- Engaging in a pattern of unwelcome or inappropriate verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or otherwise negative prejudicial slights and insults toward an individual or group, including but not limited to individuals from historically excluded groups. These may also be referred to as microaggressions* , such as touching someone’s hair or skin, commenting on ability to speak English, stating and/or perpetuating stereotypes, etc.
- Harassment based on physical, cognitive, mental disability or “regarded as” having a disability. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Making derogatory remarks, stereotypes, labels, jokes, or innuendos related to people with disabilities
- Sending inappropriate letters, notes, texts, or emails and/or displaying inappropriate images in the workplace of people with disabilities
- Telling inappropriate jokes or sharing inappropriate disability related anecdotes
- Making inappropriate or mocking disability related gestures
- Staring in an inappropriate or offensive manner
- Making inappropriate comments about appearance, assistive equipment, or body parts
- Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully providing unwanted assistance including with service animals
- Making offensive comments or asking questions about someone's medical condition, history of a medical condition, and/or whether they are a person with a disability
- Harassment based on religion or creed. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Sharing inappropriate images or videos with others in the workplace of a person’s religion, creed, or a person’s choice to abstain from religiosity
- Sending inappropriate letters, notes, texts, or emails or displaying inappropriate images in the workplace of a person’s religion, creed, or a person’s choice to abstain from religiosity
- Telling inappropriate jokes or sharing inappropriate religion related anecdotes
- Making inappropriate or mocking religion related gestures
- Making offensive comments or asking questions about someone's religion, creed, or a person’s choice to abstain from religiosity
- Harassment based on age (40 or older). Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Sending inappropriate letters, notes, texts, or e-mails or displaying inappropriate age-related images in the workplace
- Telling inappropriate jokes or sharing inappropriate age-related anecdotes
- Making inappropriate or mocking age-related gestures
- Determining and assigning tasks or duties based on a person’s age
- Staring in an inappropriate or offensive manner
- Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully providing unwanted assistance
- Making offensive age-related comments or inappropriately asking questions about someone's age
- Harassment based on genetic information. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Unlawfully obtaining or sharing genetic information, as well as any information related to it with others in the workplace
- Sending inappropriate letters, notes, texts, or e-mails related to genetic information or displaying inappropriate images in the workplace related to genetic information
- Making offensive comments or asking questions about someone's genetic information or related medical condition, history of a medical condition, and/or whether they are a person with a disability
- Inappropriate conduct
Inappropriate conduct is also covered and is a separate, broader category of misconduct that may not meet the definition of harassment listed above. This type of conduct, may not constitute harassment under the law, but raises concerns about a safe and respectful workplace. Inappropriate conduct includes any comments or conduct that disparages or demonstrates hostility or aversion towards any person that could reasonably be perceived as disruptive, disrespectful, offensive, or inappropriate in the workplace. These may also be referred to as microaggressions*. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Actions or behaviors that adversely impact operations, productivity, and/or work environment
- Rude comments, ridicule, disrespectful jokes, or insults
- Inappropriate yelling or emotional outbursts, using expletives, throwing objects, or banging/slamming doors
- Inappropriate touching or any form of physical intimidation or aggression (e.g., holding, restraining, impeding, or blocking movement, following, inappropriate contact or advances, bullying, or any other forms of inappropriate touching)
- Engaging in a personal relationship with someone in an inherently unequal position where there is a real or perceived authority or influence over the other’s conditions of employment and/or has the ability to directly impact the other’s career progression and not disclosing the relationship and t aking steps to mitigate the risk to all parties. This may include formal and informal supervisory relationships.
- Inappropriate or rude gestures, expressions, pictures, or graffiti
- Threats against others or engaging in other threatening behavior
- Psychological bullying or intimidation, such as making statements that are false, malicious, disparaging, or derogatory with the intent to hurt another’s reputation
- Engaging in behaviors that may have a dampening effect on reporting workplace concerns, such as those that can be perceived as intimidating or retaliatory against individuals who report concerns or participate in an administrative inquiry or other protected activity
* Microaggressions are everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults -- whether intentional or unintentional -- that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to individuals based solely upon their marginalized group membership. (UCLA, Diversity & Faculty Development. (2014). Diversity in the classroom). Microaggressions repeat or affirm stereotypes about a minority group, and they tend to minimize the existence of discrimination or bias, intentional or not. (NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity (SWD) Office). Sue et al. [Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. (apa.org).], defined racial microaggressions as subtle, daily, and unintentional racial slights committed against people of color because they are members of a racialized group and proposed nine categories of racial microaggressions, described as (a) assumptions that a person of color is not a true American; (b) assumptions of lesser intelligence; (c) statements that convey colorblindness or denial of the importance of race; (d) assumptions of criminality or dangerousness; (e) denials of individual racism; (f) promotion of the myth of meritocracy; (g) assumptions that one’s cultural background and communication styles are pathological; (h) being treated as a second-class citizen; and (i) having to endure environmental messages of being unwelcome or devalued.