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Understanding Different Types of Harassment

Harassment in the workplace is not only devastating to victims; it is also illegal. In this article, we explore the different types of harassment a person might experience in the workplace.

What Is Harassment?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment is “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability, or genetic information (including family medical history).”

By the EEOC’s definition, harassment becomes unlawful when it meets any of the following conditions:

  • Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment
  • The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive
  • The harassment is in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws

To that end, actions that may be considered harassment include:

  • Offensive jokes
  • Slurs
  • Name-calling
  • Threats or intimidation
  • Physical assault
  • Ridicule or mockery
  • Insults
  • Offensive objects or pictures
  • Interference with work performance

Harassment can occur whether the victim is a supervisor, a co-worker, a non-employee, or an agent of the employer. The victim can be anybody affected by the offensive conduct, even if it is not the person directly harassed. And harassment can be considered unlawful even if it does not economically injure the victim. 

Types of Harassment 

All of the below are examples of different types of harassment in some or all states.

Race, Religion, Sex, and National Origin

One of the most important civil rights laws in American history, ​​Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment on the basis of race, religion, sex, and national origin.


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) makes it illegal to discriminate against somebody based on their age. This protects older employees from discriminatory practices in hiring, firing, and promotion.

Veteran Status

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERA) makes it illegal to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their past, current, or future military service or obligations. 


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits qualifying employers with 25 or more employees from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. 

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification

In 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in the case Bostock v. Clayton County that the prohibition against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes employment discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.

Criminal History

According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals based on their criminal history. Since 2021, federal agencies and contractors may not inquire into an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer has been made. Additionally, many states have laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of arrest or conviction records.

Citizenship Status

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prohibits employers from discriminating against a person on the basis of citizenship status. New York and Illinois also have state statutes prohibiting the same.

Smoking Status

Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have laws protecting smokers from discrimination, including refusing to hire smokers. These include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming


California’s 2019 Crown Act made it illegal to discriminate against employees based on hairstyle. Since then, 15 other states have enacted similar laws including:

  1. Colorado
  2. Connecticut
  3. Delaware
  4. Louisiana
  5. Maine
  6. Maryland
  7. Massachusetts
  8. Nebraska
  9. Nevada
  10. New Jersey
  11. New Mexico
  12. New York
  13. Oregon
  14. Tennessee
  15. Virginia
  16. Washington

Marital Status

Nineteen states ban discrimination on the basis of marital status, including:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota 
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York 
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Gender Identity

Many states and cities have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. For detailed information about which states have which laws, view this State-by-State Guide to Laws That Prohibit Discrimination Against Transgender People.

Appalachian Heritage

In Cincinnati, Ohio, it is illegal to discriminate against people of Appalachian regional origin with respect to terms or conditions of employment.

Political Beliefs

In California and Seattle, Washington, it is illegal to discriminate against somebody on the basis of political ideology. 

Sources of Income

New York and Philadelphia have laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of “sources of income.” 

Taking Action Against Harassment

If you have been the victim of illegal harassment in the workplace, you have the option of taking legal action against your employer. After filing a charge to the EEOC, you can legally sue your employer for damages. To receive a free case review and learn more about how to proceed, speak to a harassment attorney.

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