No Tolerance for Workplace Harassment in Home Care

Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. This truth should never be affected by a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, age, disability, or other factors protected by law.

Discrimination based on differences can lead to offensive and threatening behaviors. Harassment in the workplace, including sexual harassment, must not be practiced or tolerated. For nurses and caregivers working in individuals’ homes, that workplace might encompass a client’s home and remote interactions with managers who are supervising employees in the field.

Make sure everyone on your team understands how to recognize harassment in all its forms, how to report it, and what you can do to help prevent it.

What is Workplace Harassment?

Harassment includes a wide range of offensive behaviors that are threatening, disturbing, and persistent. As the Department of Labor notes, workplace harassment based on the following is prohibited by law:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity (e.g., transgender)
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Parental status
  • Sex (which includes pregnancy)

Some states may have an expanded list of protected classes, as well. Your agency will have its own policy that defines workplace harassment. It will explain how you are expected to respond to harassment and help prevent it.

Harassment can occur in person or online. It is often illegal. Workplace harassment can be in the form of anything offensive that interferes with work performance, including:

  • Vulgar jokes
  • Inappropriate terms
  • Crude language
  • Disrespectful pictures, cartoons, or objects
  • Name calling
  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Physical assault
  • Ridicule or insults
  • Different treatment for one group of people

Types of Harassment

The different types of harassment include:

Verbal

Verbal harassment is a nonphysical type of harassment. It includes using words, comments, or gestures that are offensive or threatening.

Psychological

This type of harassment is also nonphysical but involves mentally bullying someone. It can occur when a person:

  • Steals a coworker’s ideas.
  • Takes credit for a coworker’s work.
  • Makes demands that are unreasonable.
  • Sets deadlines that are impossible.
  • Opposes everything a specific person says or does.
  • Forces someone to do tasks that are demeaning or outside of what should be expected.
  • Stares at or leans over someone to intimidate them.

Digital

You may have heard this type of harassment called “cyberbullying.” It happens when someone uses the internet to harass another person. Someone may:

  • Post threats, false accusations, or harmful comments on social media.
  • Create a fake social media account or website to use as a tool for harassment.
  • Create inappropriate online graffiti or images that are directed at a person or group.

Physical

As a rule, physical contact in the workplace is appropriate only when it has a professional purpose. Physical harassment means that unwanted touching occurs.

Unwanted touching can be a gentle touch, such as stroking or brushing against a person’s clothing or skin on purpose. It can also be more severe, such as an assault with an object or a:

  • Push
  • Trip
  • Kick
  • Hit

Physical harassment also includes threats of violence that are made toward a person or their property.

Sexual

Sexual harassment is a common form of workplace harassment, according to human rights advocates. The Society for Human Resource Management identifies two different types of sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo.
  • Hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo means “this for that.” It involves one person’s promise of a specific job benefit as a reward for sexual favors. For example, a supervisor might offer an employee a promotion in exchange for sexual activity.

It can also exist in the form of threats, such as, “If you won’t go out with me, I’ll fire you.”

Harassment might exist even if the threat or promise is hard to detect. For example:

  • “I can make your job here a lot easier.”
  • “You want a friend like me on your side.”
  • “I mentor my employees outside of work hours.”

A hostile work environment is a more common type of sexual harassment. This type requires no threat or promise of a change in employment conditions. Instead, it involves offensive behavior that creates uncomfortable working conditions. Examples of these behaviors noted by RAINN include:

  • Unwanted sexual advances.
  • Undesired physical contact.
  • Sexual gestures.
  • Requests for sexual favors.
  • Display of sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons, or posters.
  • Offensive sexual comments, labels, insults, or jokes.
  • Blocking a person’s movement on purpose.

Keep in mind that sexual harassment can occur even if:

  • The offender did not mean to make someone uncomfortable.
  • The behavior is not based on sex; however, the person is singled out because of their sex.

Who Is Involved?

The people involved in harassment include the harasser and the victim. The harasser is the person who creates harassment through their own actions. The harasser might be a:

  • Supervisor.
  • Coworker.
  • Person who represents or works with your employer, such as a contractor.
  • Nonemployee, such as a client or someone in the client’s home.

The victim is anyone affected by offensive conduct that:

  • Affects their work performance.
  • Creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Victims of harassment can also be employees who participate when offensive comments or jokes are made by others. Why might a person participate in this type of behavior? It may be uncomfortable for some victims to avoid participation. They may believe that they must join the conversation to fit into their work culture and protect themselves from being singled out.

Victims of harassment can also be employees who are associated with members of a targeted group. For example, a person whose spouse is of a different race might become a victim of harassment because of the race of their spouse.

It is important that you keep in mind the emotional nature of harassment. There are laws that are meant to protect victims of workplace harassment; however, each situation is unique and must be managed carefully.

Preventing Harassment in the Workplace

In addition to supporting a zero-tolerance atmosphere, you can take other steps to help ensure a harassment-free environment.

  • Be certain to conduct yourself in a professional manner. Respect the rights, values, dignity, and culture of others without regard to their race, religion, sex, disability, ethnicity, age, or other factors protected by federal or state law.
  • Clearly communicate to other employees that you do not tolerate harassment in your workplace. If you feel comfortable doing so, speak up if you see or hear any inappropriate conduct or behaviors from managers, coworkers, or even clients.
  • Become familiar with your right to work in an environment free from harassment. You should also become acquainted with your agency’s anti-harassment policies and be prepared to assert your rights when necessary.
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Jennifer Burks

Content Developer, Relias

Jennifer W. Burks, RN, MSN, has over 25 years of clinical and teaching experience, and her areas of expertise are critical care and home health. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from The University of Virginia in 1993 and her Master of Science in Nursing from The University of North Carolina, Greensboro, in 1996. Her professional practice in education is guided by a philosophy borrowed from Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing, “I do not pretend to teach her how, I ask her to teach herself, and for this purpose, I venture to give her some hints.”

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