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Understanding Different Types of Harassment

Many people may believe that sexual harassment is the only type of workplace harassment. While sexual harassment can be common, many other forms of harassment take place in workplace settings. Many states and local governments have very specific anti-discrimination laws prohibiting harassment of other kinds.

The following is an overview of some other types of harassment that may occur in the workplace or elsewhere.

General Definition

Laws against harassment prohibit speech or action which is severe or pervasive enough to create a "hostile or abusive work environment." For example, under guidance provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC), harassment is any type of discrimination, rising to the level of creating such a work environment, that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Types of Harassment

Race, Religion, Sex, and National Origin

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment on the basis of race, religion, sex, and national origin.


Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of that person's age. It protects employees 40 years of age and older from such discrimination in all job actions, examples of which include 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

Courts in particular jurisdictions have found that harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status, as prohibited in state or local statutes or codes, is illegal.

Gender Identification

As of 2021, about 225 cities and counties across the United States have ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

The Code for the City of New Orleans, for example, prohibits discrimination based on "gender identification." The Code also prohibits discrimination, including hostile work environment harassment, on the basis of sexual orientation.

Political Beliefs

The Code for the City of Seattle, Washington prohibits discrimination on the basis of "political ideology." California does the same, also prohibiting discrimination based on such grounds.

Criminal History

A handful of jurisdictions, such as Wisconsin and New York, have laws or policies that prohibit discrimination on grounds of arrest or conviction records. Some private employers and institutions do the same. These protections extend to circumstances where such discrimination rises to the level of hostile work environment.

Occupation or Sources of Income

New York and Philadelphia have anti-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment based upon "sources of income." A few states, and some local jurisdictions, also prohibit discrimination on bases related to a person's receipt of public assistance benefits.

Citizenship Status

Both New York and Illinois have state statutes that prohibit discrimination and harassing speech based upon "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 against a person based on their citizenship.


The City of Cincinnati, Ohio, prohibits discrimination with respect to terms or conditions of employment based on "Appalachian regional origin."

Smokers and Nonsmokers

29 states, including California and North Carolina, have laws that protect smokers from discrimination.

Comprehensive Protections

Many states and local governments have statutes or codes that protect against a slew of different forms of discriminatory, and therefore harassing, behaviors.


Since the passing of the Crown Act in March of 2022, many states have passed their own versions of the law. It prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their hairstyle.

Since California passed the Crown Act in 2019, about 13 other states have done the same. Some of those states include Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Nebraska.

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 take place, an employer must discriminate against an employee for being married to, or associated with, persons of a certain nationality. It may also take place when an employer prefers one nationality over another, unless nationality is a "bona fide occupational qualification."
  • Using racial epithets to describe a set of people can constitute racial harassment, regardless of whether the epithets are not directed at a particular individual.

Get Legal Help with Your Workplace Harassment Claim: Call an Attorney

If you've been involved in an incident that could constitute racial harassment in your workplace, you'll greatly benefit from a conversation with a lawyer. They can evaluate the facts of the incident, the quality of your evidence, and the relevant laws in order to determine how best to proceed. Contact an experienced employment attorney near you today.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

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

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