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Types of Behaviors That Make Up a Hostile Work Environment

Sexual harassment is not the same thing as a hostile work environment. While some types of sexual harassment can be considered hostile workplace harassment, other types of sexual harassment fall under different categories. For example, quid pro quo harassment, which translates to “this for that” is where a coworker or superior requests sexual favors and gives something in return. Understanding the other types of harassment is important, but it’s also important to note what kinds of behaviors occur in a hostile work environment.

Lewd or Inappropriate Gestures

Lewd gestures are often the way movies portray sexual harassment that isn’t quid pro quo. When you think of people suggestively pointing toward parts of their bodies, winking at people, or making gestures that allude to sexual acts, these are the types of inappropriate gestures that are part of sexual harassment and hostile work environments. These types of gestures make people uncomfortable, especially when they are unwanted. They are certainly inappropriate for the workplace, but the reason these kinds of gestures contribute to a hostile work environment is because they are often displayed as jokes, even when there are serious intentions behind these actions.

Offensive Joking

Workplace harassment is not solely related to sexuality or gender. Hostile workplace harassment it generally any discriminatory actions against protected categories such as age, race, disability, or religion. This can often take place in the form of joking. Many people make jokes, and they may not realize they are being offensive. Jokes about age, for instance, are relatively common in popular culture. In the workplace, however, these jokes can be targeted at specific individuals, and those jokes could feel hostile. If everyone is laughing at the jokes, it quickly can feel as if everyone in the workplace is discriminating against one person. Jokes can be as powerful as intentional intimidation.

Physical or Verbal Intimidation

Physical and verbal intimidation is much less subtle than offensive jokes can seem. Sometimes people who have prejudices against groups of people choose to take discriminatory actions. When prejudice is verbalized through threats or blatant insults and the target of these verbal comments feels uncomfortable or threatened, it becomes verbal intimidation and contributes to hostile work environments. When discrimination includes physical actions, such as hitting or aggressive touching, this is physical intimidation.

Unfair Workplace Changes Targeted at One Individuals

Sometimes workers who are prejudice but who are also aware of the consequences of harassment choose to make their discriminatory actions subtle. These actions are still illegal, but they can be harder to spot. When a supervisor changes an employee’s schedule without the employee agreeing to it or if the supervisor starts to give an employee unfair tasks, this could be a hostile work environment. The goal of these subtle changes is to force an employee to quit. Often, these subtle changes can be paired with other kinds of workplace harassment, but all of the actions are illegal and punishable.

Last Updated: April 15, 2015