In Bullying Help, Health Professionals

How to Tell If You Are Harassed at Work?

How to Tell the Signs you are Harassed at Work

If you are harassed at work it can make working incredibly hard. Victims can end up hating their job and dreading going into work. There are many ways that you can be harassed on your job. The term harassment is not confined to sexual harassment. In fact, harassment covers a large area that you might not be aware of. Everyone has the right to not be subject to bullying, discrimination or unfair sexual advances in the workplace.


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What is Workplace harassment?

According to Rosa Brook, there are two main principles to understand when considering workplace harassment:


  • Firstly, everyone is entitled to be free from abuse in the workplace.
  • Secondly, workplace harassment is harmful to the victims.


Generally workplace harassment is divided into two groups, physical abuse and emotional abuse. Physical abuse involves any form of assault or battery, sexual or other touching and other unwanted contact. Emotional harassment is trickier to detect and deal with. Loraleigh Keashly defined emotional harassment as:


“the hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviours that are not explicitly tied to sexual or racial content yet are directed at gaining compliance from others.”


Sexual harassment is the most widely understood form of workplace harassment. This can involve quid pro quo harassment, in which victims submit in order to get advancement or other benefits, or in order to avoid unfair treatment from the perpetrator, who is usually senior in rank.

However, workplace harassment can also include discrimination based on sex, race or other identity group. LGBT people and those of a stigmatised racial group are more likely to be victims of harassment than others. Workplace harassment can include bullying or any other form of abuse in the workplace as well.

While this is devastating on the victim, it can also be detrimental for the company as well. Workplace harassment can damage productivity and increase staff turnover.


Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace is defined, by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as:


“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, 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”


As mentioned above, this is the most widely understood and discussed form of workplace harassment. Here are some statistics regarding workplace sexual harassment in the USA that you may find surprising:


  • 79 per cent of the victims are women.
  • 51 per cent are harassed by a supervisor.
  • 12 per cent of victims receive threats of termination of employment.


Anyone can be the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, irrespective of age, gender or seniority. This type of harassment is illegal and unfair. Many companies have enforced strict workplace policies, which prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Employees and others who are victims of such harassment can report this misconduct to the proper departmental heads.


Are You Harassed at Work?

If your peers and supervisors treat you unfairly, you might be a victim of workplace harassment or bullying. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 35 per cent of workers in the USA reported being bullied at work.

Sometimes symptoms of workplace harassment can manifest as those of a physical illness. Stomach or head pains, nausea, diarrhoea, heartburn, IBS and high blood pressure are all potential signs of workplace bullying. This is along side the frequent mental health issue that accompany workplace bullying such as depression.


Forbes Magazine lists at least 10 signs for you to evaluate to determine if you are being harassed at work:


  • If you feel anxious the night before you are due to start your week. If you feel like you need to throw up, this is a warning sign. The thought of going to a place where torment and pain await is not something anyone looks forward to.


  • Being singled out at work, even though your work is beyond average. Bosses who like to show their control sometimes victimise employees they consider to be weak in order to make a spectacle out of them in front of everyone.


  • If you are being yelled at, called unpleasant names, and constantly criticized and humiliated in front of crowds of people, you are probably a victim of workplace harassment.


  • Isolation is another form of harassment. If you are not invited to meetings, or you are not invited to lunches or work outings, this is potential sign.



  • If your boss is constantly changing your work schedule so it conflicts with your days off.


Here are some other signs and symptoms that may better help you determine if you are harassed at work:


  • If work causes you physical or emotional damage.
  • If work causes you to deal with unwanted behaviours and unwanted desires.
  • If you are singled out, only to be picked on or humiliated.
  • If you are experiencing sleepless nights and feelings of guilt.
  • If you are treated suspiciously by staff or are forced to work in a negative environment.


Bullying at Work

The distinction between bullying and harassment can seem unclear, but any form of bullying that involves discrimination or sexual advance can be considered harassment. Bullying in the workplace can be defined as:


“…a long lasting, escalated conflict with frequent harassing actions systematically aimed at a target person.”


Many supervisors harass their victims into quitting their jobs, this way they don’t have to pay workers compensation. You can always document what is being done to you. Keep a list of mistreatments and inappropriate actions and insults conferred against you in the workplace.


Rights and Responsibilities

Remember that the employer has the responsibility  to ensure for each employee the following:

  • Information, education, and training for all employees and especially those employees in a supervisory position, on workplace harassment.
  • Stop all incidents of reported harassment and correct behaviours.
  • The employer must initiate a policy and procedure pertaining to workplace harassment.
  • Outline investigative procedures of workplace harassment.
  • Stop any retaliation.


Employees have a responsibility to their workplace for the following:

  • Avoid demeaning behaviours.
  • Respect towards supervisors and co-workers.
  • All employees need to know that co-workers and supervisors should not make remarks, gestures, and behaviours in different ways meant to be offensive.

If you are experiencing signs of sexual harassment at work or feeling you are simply harassed at work for no reason, do not let it continue. Talk to your manager or supervisor and make it known you won’t accept being harassed at work. Learn how to handle workplace bullying and check our interview with Pamela Garber on Workplace Bullying.

Share the signs of being harassed at work, and please comment below with your experiences with work bullying, or your views on the matter. Did you face work bullying? How did it make you feel?


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1 Comment

  • Church Aldaba
    Nov 25, 2015 at 01:03 am


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