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Understanding Different Types of Harassment

Many people may believe that harassment of a sexual nature is the only type of workplace harassment. While workplace sexual harassment is well-known, many other forms of workplace harassment exist. Many local governments and state laws have specific anti-discrimination laws prohibiting harassment.

The following is an overview of the different types of harassment.

General Definition

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment is unwelcome conduct based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy)
  • National origin
  • Older age (beginning at age 40)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information (including family medical history)

Laws against harassment prohibit behavior that creates a hostile or abusive work environment. The EEOC considers harassment a form of employment discrimination.

Types of Harassment

Let's examine the different types of harassment and their distinctive characteristics.

Race/Color, Ethnicity, Religion, Sex, and National Origin

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment and derogatory slurs. Harassment based on race/skin color, religious beliefs, sex, ethnicity, and national origin are all protected. These are examples of protected classes.

Verbal Harassment

Verbal harassment is also known as verbal abuse. Here, one person uses words, tone, or language to intimidate or demean another. It involves verbal interactions meant to harm, control, or manipulate. This type of harassment can overlap with psychological harassment. Verbal harassment can include:

  • Name-calling
  • Threats
  • Sarcasm and mockery
  • Offensive jokes
  • Online harassment, like cyberbullying, through text messages, emails, social media, etc.
  • Gaslighting

Physical Harassment

Physical harassment involves deliberate physical actions aimed at causing harm, injury, or intimidation to another person. This offensive conduct includes:

  • Hitting
  • Pushing
  • Kicking
  • Slapping
  • Punching
  • Any form of physical contact that inflicts harm or discomfort upon another


Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to harass or discriminate against someone based on that person's age. It protects employees ages 40 and older from discrimination in all job actions. This includes hiring, firing, and promotions.


Under the ADA, qualifying employers are prohibited from discriminating against an employee with a disability.

Status as a Veteran

Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERA), it's prohibited to discriminate against a person based on their past, current, or future military obligations or service.

Sexual Orientation and Marital Status

Harassment based on sexual orientation or marital status is illegal.

Gender Identification

Hundreds of cities have ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. This includes the code for the city of New Orleans. The code also prohibits discrimination, including hostile work environment harassment and quid pro quo harassment, based on sexual orientation.

Political Beliefs

The code for the city of Seattle, Washington, prohibits discrimination based on political ideology. California does the same, also prohibiting discrimination based on such grounds.

Criminal History

Some jurisdictions have laws prohibiting discrimination for arrest or conviction records. Some private employers and institutions do the same. These protections extend to circumstances where such discrimination creates a hostile work environment.

Occupation or Sources of Income

Some states have anti-discrimination laws prohibiting harassment based on sources of income. A few states also prohibit discrimination related to public assistance benefits.

Citizenship Status

New York and Illinois prohibit discrimination and harassing speech based on citizenship status. In the case of New York, this also extends to alienage, as well. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) also prohibits an employer from discriminating based on citizenship.


The city of Cincinnati, Ohio, prohibits discrimination based on Appalachian regional origin.

Genetic Information

Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) covers employers with 15 or more employees. Harassment or discrimination based on an individual's genetic makeup is prohibited under federal law.

Smokers and Nonsmokers

Laws in 29 states protect smokers from discrimination.

Comprehensive Protections

Many states have statutes or codes that protect against different forms of harassing behaviors.


Since California passed the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) in March 2019, many states have passed versions of the law. Those states include Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Nebraska. It prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their hairstyle.

Specific Examples of What Can Constitute Harassment

Consider the following as examples of what can constitute harassment:

  • Unwelcomed preaching by coworkers on religious matters can potentially constitute harassment.
  • For national-origin harassment to occur, an employer must discriminate against an employee for being married to or associated with persons of a specific nationality. It may also occur when an employer prefers one nationality over another unless nationality is a "bona fide occupational qualification."
  • One can experience racial harassment because of their:
    • Race
    • Ancestry
    • Skin color
    • Citizenship status
    • Origin country
  • Sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and sexual jokes can all qualify as sexual harassment.

Call an Employment Law Attorney Before Calling Human Resources

No reasonable person would engage in harassing conduct to insult someone else. If you are the victim of discriminatory harassment, consider meeting with a lawyer. They can evaluate your workplace's harassment policy and the relevant laws. Then, they can determine how best to proceed with your harassment case. Contact an experienced employment attorney near you today.

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Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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