When Does Workplace Bullying Become Harassment?

When Does Workplace Bullying Become Harassment?

Bullying in the workplace can rapidly create a toxic environment–or it may be part of an overall toxic environment to begin with. Unfortunately, an average 19% of adults have personally experienced bullying in the workplace, and another 19% have noticed bullying happening to someone else. Worse, sometimes bullying crosses the line into harassment, causing even more serious concerns–not to mention potential legal repercussions.

Has bullying crossed over into harassment in your workplace? 

Bullying Vs. Harassment: Isolated Incidents vs. Ongoing Problems

If you hear a racial slur or experience perceived gender inequality once, it is likely just bullying–frequently from an office bully who does not get his way. On the other hand, if you notice ongoing examples of the same behavior, it could constitute workplace harassment. Report any concerning behaviors to your HR department or contact an attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your next steps. 

Common Harassment Behaviors

An estimated 54% of women have reported workplace harassment. Minorities may also experience high degrees of harassment, especially in a workplace made up of a high quantity of another race. Workplace bullying may cross into harassment when any of these behaviors are evident. 

An individual frequently uses racial or gender-based slurs. 

Sometimes, people may use slurs due to a lack of knowledge. They may simply fail to note the word as offensive the first time it is used. After frequent repetition and reprimands, however, it becomes obvious that the individual is deliberately harassing specific people within the workplace. This behavior can constitute harassment even if the individual uses the common, “I was just kidding!” or, “I didn’t mean anything by it!” 

You feel physically intimidated by a bully.

Men, in particular, often use their greater physical size and strength to try to bring someone else in line with their wishes. You may notice someone deliberately looming over you or using aggressive behaviors that put you on your guard or suggest that if you do not comply with the individual’s demands, you will have to enter a physical altercation. 

An individual regularly posts or shares offensive pictures or content. 

Some content simply does not belong in the workplace–including any content that belittles someone or makes them feel uncomfortable. If you have a coworker who shares these materials on a regular basis, especially one in a position of authority, that coworker has already crossed the line into harassment. This includes content set as a backdrop on company machines, shared in company chats, or sent through emails or private messages. 

An individual engages in mockery or ridiculing behavior, especially toward a specific individual.

Some bullies deliberately engage in mockery or ridicule others because they want to create a response. They may generalize those behaviors toward anyone, target specific groups of people, or even target specific individuals. If you feel uncomfortable due to repeated jabs or comments, you may already have suffered workplace bullying. 

The behavior interferes with your ability to complete your job duties.

It’s not uncommon, in a toxic work environment, for employees to disengage. They may stop putting forth as much effort at work or struggle to keep up with their usual job responsibilities. It may become increasingly difficult for anyone in the workplace, especially targets of bullying or harassment, to get things done. Bullying and harassment can also specifically interfere with many job tasks, especially if the bully tries to force you to take on additional work. 

What Should You Do If You Face Harassment at Work?

Many people have no idea what to do when they face harassment at work. Should you report it? If the bully or harasser is in a position of power, you may fear that you will lose your job. Should you ask the bully to stop? What if it makes the behavior worse, instead? No one should have to live with bullying or harassment in the workplace. To help keep your work environment safer, follow these steps. 

1. Ask the individual to stop.

Do not engage in confrontation. Do, however, let the bully know that the behavior you have observed is unacceptable. Sometimes, people simply need to be educated about the power of their words and behaviors. Other times, simply showing that you do not intend to take that treatment silently can improve many of those behaviors. 

2. Report the behavior to HR.

Depending on the behavior, you may want to report to your Human Resources department as soon as you observe it. For example, if you notice someone using racial or gendered slurs, you may want to report the behavior sooner rather than later. Sometimes, especially if you feel that addressing the bully directly may put you in danger, you may want to report the behavior to HR anonymously and let them deal with it. 

3. Document everything.

Any time you witness or experience harassment, document it extensively. The more evidence you have, the harder it can prove to turn that behavior around on you. You may want to note dates, times, specific language used, or any behaviors that made you feel uncomfortable. Take screenshots of harassing messages. If you have recordings of taunts or other harassing behaviors, including video recordings of physical intimidation, save them to use as evidence later. You may want to make copies of any particularly important information and store it off-site or with your lawyer. 

4. Contact an attorney.

If you experience ongoing harassment at work, you may have legal rights regarding compensation and employment. Your employer also cannot terminate you for calling out harassment, even if you call out your boss or management team. Contact an attorney to learn more about your legal rights and how you should respond following serious harassment in the workplace.

Bullying in the workplace can rapidly create a toxic environment–or it may be part of an overall toxic environment to begin with. Unfortunately, an average 19% of adults have personally experienced bullying in the workplace, and another 19% have noticed bullying happening to someone else. Worse, sometimes bullying crosses the line into harassment, causing even more serious concerns–not to mention potential legal repercussions.

Has bullying crossed over into harassment in your workplace? 

Bullying Vs. Harassment: Isolated Incidents vs. Ongoing Problems

If you hear a racial slur or experience perceived gender inequality once, it is likely just bullying–frequently from an office bully who does not get his way. On the other hand, if you notice ongoing examples of the same behavior, it could constitute workplace harassment. Report any concerning behaviors to your HR department or contact an attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your next steps. 

Common Harassment Behaviors

An estimated 54% of women have reported workplace harassment. Minorities may also experience high degrees of harassment, especially in a workplace made up of a high quantity of another race. Workplace bullying may cross into harassment when any of these behaviors are evident. 

An individual frequently uses racial or gender-based slurs. 

Sometimes, people may use slurs due to a lack of knowledge. They may simply fail to note the word as offensive the first time it is used. After frequent repetition and reprimands, however, it becomes obvious that the individual is deliberately harassing specific people within the workplace. This behavior can constitute harassment even if the individual uses the common, “I was just kidding!” or, “I didn’t mean anything by it!” 

You feel physically intimidated by a bully.

Men, in particular, often use their greater physical size and strength to try to bring someone else in line with their wishes. You may notice someone deliberately looming over you or using aggressive behaviors that put you on your guard or suggest that if you do not comply with the individual’s demands, you will have to enter a physical altercation. 

An individual regularly posts or shares offensive pictures or content. 

Some content simply does not belong in the workplace–including any content that belittles someone or makes them feel uncomfortable. If you have a coworker who shares these materials on a regular basis, especially one in a position of authority, that coworker has already crossed the line into harassment. This includes content set as a backdrop on company machines, shared in company chats, or sent through emails or private messages. 

An individual engages in mockery or ridiculing behavior, especially toward a specific individual.

Some bullies deliberately engage in mockery or ridicule others because they want to create a response. They may generalize those behaviors toward anyone, target specific groups of people, or even target specific individuals. If you feel uncomfortable due to repeated jabs or comments, you may already have suffered workplace bullying. 

The behavior interferes with your ability to complete your job duties.

It’s not uncommon, in a toxic work environment, for employees to disengage. They may stop putting forth as much effort at work or struggle to keep up with their usual job responsibilities. It may become increasingly difficult for anyone in the workplace, especially targets of bullying or harassment, to get things done. Bullying and harassment can also specifically interfere with many job tasks, especially if the bully tries to force you to take on additional work. 

What Should You Do If You Face Harassment at Work?

Many people have no idea what to do when they face harassment at work. Should you report it? If the bully or harasser is in a position of power, you may fear that you will lose your job. Should you ask the bully to stop? What if it makes the behavior worse, instead? No one should have to live with bullying or harassment in the workplace. To help keep your work environment safer, follow these steps. 

1. Ask the individual to stop.

Do not engage in confrontation. Do, however, let the bully know that the behavior you have observed is unacceptable. Sometimes, people simply need to be educated about the power of their words and behaviors. Other times, simply showing that you do not intend to take that treatment silently can improve many of those behaviors. 

2. Report the behavior to HR.

Depending on the behavior, you may want to report to your Human Resources department as soon as you observe it. For example, if you notice someone using racial or gendered slurs, you may want to report the behavior sooner rather than later. Sometimes, especially if you feel that addressing the bully directly may put you in danger, you may want to report the behavior to HR anonymously and let them deal with it. 

3. Document everything.

Any time you witness or experience harassment, document it extensively. The more evidence you have, the harder it can prove to turn that behavior around on you. You may want to note dates, times, specific language used, or any behaviors that made you feel uncomfortable. Take screenshots of harassing messages. If you have recordings of taunts or other harassing behaviors, including video recordings of physical intimidation, save them to use as evidence later. You may want to make copies of any particularly important information and store it off-site or with your lawyer. 

4. Contact an attorney.

If you experience ongoing harassment at work, you may have legal rights regarding compensation and employment. Your employer also cannot terminate you for calling out harassment, even if you call out your boss or management team. Contact an attorney to learn more about your legal rights and how you should respond following serious harassment in the workplace.

One bully or ongoing harassment from a single person can quickly turn even the best work environment upside down. As an employee, you do not have to tolerate that behavior. Contact Perkins Asbill, A Professional Law Corporation to learn more about your legal rights following workplace harassment.