A number of behaviors fall under the umbrella term of harassment, but the law defines it as behaviors that are threatening, upsetting, or disturbing to the victim. Harassment will often reduce or impede a person’s rights in a discriminatory capacity.
There are a number of different types of harassment that are defined and penalized differently by the law. The definitions and penalties can also vary significantly between state. In this article, we will discuss 3 common types of harassment.
Employment harassment falls under the umbrella of employment discrimination and violates equality laws like ADA, ADEA, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Employment harassment is unwelcome behavior based on a protected class like:
- National origin
- Genetic information
- Sexual orientation
Employment harassment is illegal if enduring the harassment is a condition of employment or if it creates a hostile workplace. Harassment against someone in retaliation for exercising their rights, speaking up against unlawful behavior, or participating in a lawsuit, proceeding, or investigation is also unlawful.
Isolated incidents (unless they are extreme) and continual but slight annoyances are not unlawful. Employment harassment only covers behavior that is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment that a reasonable person would consider unsafe or offensive. This may include behavior such as:
- Offensive jokes
- Offensive pictures or objects
- Mockery or ridicule
- Physical or sexual assault
- Slurs or name-calling
- Interference with work performance
While harassment is particularly heinous from a superior, the harasser can be a colleague or even a non-employee like a supplier or a client. Regardless of who the harasser is, an employer has a duty to protect their employee from employment harassment. A victim of harassment may also not be the person being harassed. Anyone who witnesses and is affected by the harassment is a victim of harassment.
Stalking or Menacing
Stalking is a form of harassment, but in some states, it is a separate offense. While each state has a different definition of the term stalking, it is a pattern of harassment that leads the victim to fear for their safety and that of their family. If the stalking occurs interstate, then it is a federal crime.
In some states, stalking falls under the term “menacing” which is ongoing behavior that causes the victim to fear for their safety. Single severe acts like brandishing a weapon are also considered menacing.
Because of the huge difference in harassment and stalking laws between states, we recommend reading your state’s laws for more information. If you are being stalked, speak to an attorney about harassment and what actions are available for you.
Not all states have laws to deal with online harassment. Some states do have cyberstalking laws, and some have simply amended harassment or stalking laws to include electronic communication. We recommend looking into cyberstalking or online harassment laws for your state and discussing specific cases with an attorney.
Federal law has included electronic communication and online communication in their law against using interstate communication to threaten to harm or kidnap someone.
What Is the Difference Between Civil Harassment and Criminal Harassment?
The public tends to use the term harassment for both criminal harassment and civil harassment. The law defines these types of harassment differently and penalize them in vastly different ways.
As a general rule of thumb, criminal harassment is often under the jurisdiction of the state. The state laws will define what constitutes harassment and what punishments will be doled out for the different types and severity of the harassment. Criminal harassment must pose a real threat to the safety of the victim or their family. The intention of criminal harassment is to terrorize, torment, or alarm the person. The state laws will define the methods used to harass someone and different levels of harassment that are used to define the severity of harassment.
The severity, pervasiveness, and type of harassment will be taken into account when charging the perpetrator and issuing a punishment. In some cases, it may be charged as a misdemeanor; in others, a high-level felony depending on the circumstances. Someone who is a repeat offender of harassment will be charged more highly for their second charge compared to their first harassment charge. In some states targeting a victim because of a protected class will raise the harassment charge or attract additional charges.
Civil harassment is discriminatory behavior such as workplace harassment or housing discrimination. It is dealt with by both federal and state laws and is often solved through private civil lawsuits rather than being reported to the police.