Types of Harassment

There are many different types of harassment, which can be written, verbal, or physical behaviors. Harassment can affect the personal and professional well-being of scientists or allied colleagues in the workplace, especially when people misuse their positions of power and influence against those in more vulnerable positions. This professional misconduct often preferentially targets women, although men can also be victims of harassment. Research confirms the extent of harassment in academic environments and in disciplines with low diversity, where the lack of established support networks can lead to feelings of vulnerability and professional insecurity.

Sexual Harassment

According to the National Science Foundation policy on harassment,  sexual harassment is defined in federal guidelines as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” Sexual harassment may:

1)    Interfere with an individual’s work performance
2)    Creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment
3)    Be made a condition of employment or affect an employment decision impacting the victim

The U.S. State Department’s policy on sexual harassment acknowledges that the following behaviors may be considered as sexual harassment:

  • Sexual pranks, or repeated sexual teasing, jokes, or innuendo, in person or via e-mail;
  • Verbal abuse of a sexual nature;
  • Touching or grabbing of a sexual nature;
  • Repeatedly standing too close to or brushing up against a person;
  • Repeatedly asking a person to socialize during off-duty hours when the person has said no or has indicated he or she is not interested (supervisors in particular should be careful not to pressure their employees to socialize);
  • Giving gifts or leaving objects that are sexually suggestive;
  • Repeatedly making sexually suggestive gestures;
  • Making or posting sexually demeaning or offensive pictures, cartoons or other materials in the workplace;
  • Off-duty, unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that affects the work environment.

Workplace Bullying

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that:

  • Threatens, humiliates, or intimidates
  • Interferes with work, or
  • Is verbally abusive


According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employer may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise “retaliate” against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination. The same laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability, as well as wage differences between men and women performing substantially equal work, also prohibit retaliation against individuals who oppose unlawful discrimination or participate in an employment discrimination proceeding.

In addition to the protections against retaliation that are included in all of the laws enforced by EEOC, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also protects individuals from coercion, intimidation, threat, harassment, or interference in their exercise of their own rights or their encouragement of someone else’s exercise of rights granted by the ADA.