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Harassment Definition

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What Is the Definition of Harassment?

Harassment is generally defined as any behavior that is:

  • Offensive, threatening, demeaning, or belittling
  • Hurtful, embarrassing, or attempts to undermine the person in the workplace

An example of harassment is where one employee constantly makes jokes about a person’s way of dressing at work. Many cases of harassment involve ongoing behavior, as some employees may be hesitant or fearful to report incidents. Harassment is sometimes called hostile work environment.

As a general term, “harassment” can exist in many places besides a work environment. For instance, harassment cases can involve school environments, neighbors, religious groups, social groups, and many other settings. Harassment can involve many other issues such as discrimination or hate crimes.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Harassment claims may also involve sexual harassment. This can include behavior such as requiring a worker to perform sexual favors in exchange for advancements. It can also include situations where an overall atmosphere of inappropriateness exists at work.

Sexual harassment is a major category in employment law. It has basically become its own category, apart from the type of offensive or hurtful harassment described above. All forms of harassment are illegal and can lead to many different types of legal consequences.

What Are Some Consequences for Harassment?

A harassment case can result in several consequences such as:

  • Penalties at work, such as a demotion
  • Termination (loss of job)
  • Civil charges
  • In some cases, criminal charges (a restraining order, criminal fines, and/or jail time)

An employee cannot be fired for reporting harassment at work because retaliatory discharge is illegal. This is true even if the claim turns out to be untrue. However, knowingly filing a false claim for harassment is also illegal and can result in criminal penalties for the person filing the false report. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Harassment Claim?

Harassment is a serious issue and should be addressed promptly. You may need to hire a lawyer if you need help filing a claim for harassment. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice for the claim, and can also represent you in court when needed. Harassment laws can vary by location, so you may need to consult with a lawyer for an interpretation of your state’s laws.

Photo of page author Jose Rivera

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 08-01-2014 03:59 PM PDT

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