How to Identify and Resolve Workplace Harassment?

Allowing workplace harassment to continue will cause legal problems while destroying company morale. Many people are uncertain about what constitutes harassment, and they are confused when their actions are pointed out as demeaning. Legally, harassment is any word, gesture, or action that offends people or makes them feel uncomfortable or intimidated. You never know how sensitive people are, so never say or do anything if you are not sure how it will be received.

How to Identify

There are many ways to harass co-workers or employees. The rights of all citizens are legally protected, regardless of sex, age, health, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, or beliefs. Harassment occurs when someone from a one group feels discriminated against by another. Be careful, and remember that you never know what people are feeling or thinking. It is possible to accidentally offend those who work with you.

  • Physical Harassment: This includes gestures, actions, and contact that can be sexual or threatening. Even well meant gestures like a hug constitute harassment if they make a person uncomfortable. Do not touch people at work or invade their personal space.
  • Emotional Harassment: Threats, comments, degrading tones, and jokes are all workplace harassment. Avoid volatile subjects, and consider the ramifications of different jokes.

Costs to Your Business

Harassment costs businesses millions every year. Many laws allow people to sue their companies for workplace harassment. Failing to protect employees can result in a high price to pay. Not only are there litigation fees, but psychological ramifications cost businesses as well. The cost to your business is not always monetary, it can cost reputation. A company losing its reputation can have an effect on many aspects of business. The company may lose customers, valuable employees, and not attract prospective new hires.


Legal fees are a costly factor for businesses that face harassment charges. Companies are responsible for protecting their employees from managers, co-workers, vendors, and clients. Sexual harassment is the responsibility of the company when it is quid pro quo, which means that the sexual favors are exchanged for jobs, promotions, or raises. Businesses are also responsible if they are known to promote a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment occurs when management does nothing to prevent harassment. In a legal battle, employers must prove that they used “reasonable care” to prevent and address harassment issues.


Harassment and bullying take a psychological toll on everyone in the workplace. A survey from the American Psychological Association revealed that 74 percent of Americans believe that work causes most of their stress. The stress from harassment can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and sleeplessness. Harassment, particularly sexual harassment, is linked to post traumatic stress disorder. Companies lose money in sick days, poor commitment, low productivity, and turnover when workplace harassment is not prevented and addressed immediately.

How to Identify your Bully

Bullying is not limited to the playground, and ignoring bullies will not make them leave you alone. Bullies are a growing problem in the workplace. Those who bully others do so with malicious intent. Unlike other harassment issues, bullies know that they are being cruel. Only 20 percent of bullying is considered illegal harassment because 80 percent of bullies do not harass people in other groups. In fact, 71 percent of bullies are women who target other women.

Abusive Workplace Behaviors

Bullies often target high performing employees and attempt to destroy them out of fear or jealousy. They manipulate using fear, and will often turn other employees against their target. Bullying has the same results as other harassment practices. Managers are often guilty of bullying their employees.

Bullying Behavior:

  • Continually changing job parameters
  • Spreading gossip and rumors
  • Creating impossible standards or deadlines
  • Isolating an individual
  • Threats of job loss
  • Spying on or stalking a target
  • Yelling at a target who is not permitted to yell back
  • Belittling or disregarding opinions and feelings
  • Preventing promotions and transfers
  • Intruding in a person’s workspace or belongings
  • Misinforming the target.

Bullying and Personality Disorders

Many bullies have personality disorders such as antisocial personality disorder and narcissism. Having a personality disorder is not an excuse to behave badly. Some bullies with personality disorders are not aware of their actions, but others choose to manipulate the people around them. Serial bullies were often bullies in school, and they usually have fake personas to hide their cruelty from the people they want to manipulate.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Those diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder are over 18 and have shown conduct disorders before they were 15.


  • Not conforming to social customs or laws
  • Consistently being deceitful (may use more than one identity)
  • Impulsive and irresponsible (will usually have credit problems)
  • Irritable and unable to empathize.
  • Disregards personal safety and the safety of others


Many bullies show the characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder. This is more common than other personality disorders. They overcompensate for their lack of confidence with a grandiose, self-important view. Narcissists think highly of themselves, need attention, and lack empathy. There are nine indicators of narcissism. A diagnosis requires five of the nine criteria.

  • Arrogance
  • Fantasies that revolve around power, success, beauty, or love
  • Are sure that only a few elite can understand them
  • Need to be appreciated and admired
  • Feels entitled and demands that people comply with their whims
  • Exploit people around them
  • Cannot empathize with others
  • Are jealous of others and believe others are jealous of them
  • Have a self-important attitude

How to Handle Workplace Violence

Violence accounts for roughly one quarter of work related deaths in the United States. In order to prevent workplace violence, it is essential that managers and employees are able to identify individuals who could become violent and understand how to diffuse dangerous situations. Violent behavior does not appear out of nowhere. There are different behaviors that indicate possible violence over time.

Types of Behavior

There are several different behaviors that can lead to violence if left to escalate. It is the responsibility of every manager to know employees and how they behave in order to identify possible problems. Customers and vendors can also be the cause of workplace violence.

Behavior Problems:

  • Acting Out: Employees express anger in inappropriate ways such as yelling, slamming, etc.
  • Irresponsible Behavior: Employees do not take responsibility for their actions.
  • Selfish Behavior: Employees do not care how their actions affect those around them.
  • Mixed Behavior: Employees verbally agree to follow rules, but do not.
  • Rigid Behavior: Employees are unwilling to try new things and take direction.
  • Avoidance: Employees lie, drink, or take drugs.
  • Extreme Behavior: Employees completely alter the way they act.
  • Odd Behavior: Employees have poor social skill or obsess about ideas or people.

Target the Behavior, Not the Person

When an employee exhibits questionable behavior, it is essential that the behavior is addressed before it escalates. Employers need to document behavior and discuss it with the employee. Talk to the employee about how the negative behavior affects work. It is important not to attack the employee on a personal level. Remember not to assume everyone who has a bad day is going to become violent.

If you are aware of any problems that your employee is facing, help by offering training, counseling, or both. Monitor behavior. If things do not improve, it may be necessary for a problem employee to leave. Security needs to be aware of any troubled employees who leave an organization. Employees who are paranoid, antisocial, or preoccupied with weapons, should be watched carefully.

Implement an Action Plan

Employers need to implement workplace violence action plans. It is important to train employees how to recognize and prevent violence. An action plan should reflect certain elements.

Action Plan

  • Screening: Use background checks and reference checks to hire stable individuals.
  • Security: Implement a security protocol.
  • Mediation:  Help employees find ways to resolve disputes.
  • Balance: Create programs that will promote work and life balance.
  • Assess: Hire a threat assessment team to watch for potential violence.
  • Responsibilities: Outline employer and employee responsibilities.
  • Situation Management: Have a plan in place for the worst-case scenario.

Post Situation Management: Have a plan