Harassment is defined as verbal or physical conduct that shows hostility to an individual on the basis of one of these protected classes: race, color, national origin, age, citizenship, religion, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, age or disability. If an employee engages in conduct such as jokes, slurs, stereotyping, emails, printed materials or posters, touching, bullying, threats, put-downs or any other action that shows an aversion to one of these groups then they are committing harassment and the organization can be liable for damages in court.
Keep yourself from committing workplace harassment by following these guidelines:
Think about the effects of your actions. Harassment belittles and makes the victim feel inferior. Most people don't want to make a co-worker feel this way. They simple act without thinking and simple assume their actions won't bother anyone. If there is a chance that something you say will hurt another person, then don't say it. Think first.
Stay away from dangerous subjects. If pictures, jokes or slurs involve any of the above classes, then don't say it! It might be perfectly OK to joke with a pregnant friend about how big she has become, but to a co-worker this type of talk is strictly off limits. Watch age related comments as well. Even saying something like "pick up the pace, old man" in a good natured manner to a co-worker can be considered harassment if the co-worker you are talking to is over 40.
Don't let peer pressure cause you to act in a way you wouldn't normally act. The pressure to fit in and not go against the actions of a group begins in school and it doesn't end when we are adults. These pressures have to be avoided at work or you may find yourself in the middle of a harassment suit.
Ask yourself if you would behave this way in front of your children. If the answer is no, then it's probably not OK at work. This is a dead giveaway.
Harassment can lower the productivity and morale of a workplace and put the organization in legal jeopardy. All workplaces should have a comprehensive harassment prevention training program in place that trains employees how to avoid harassment.