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Is workplace bullying a form of sexual harassment?

If you have become the victim of workplace bullying, you know how humiliating and distressful it is. But if one or more coworkers are bullying you, can you file a sexual harassment claim under Title VII? The answer is, maybe. It all depends on the nature of the bullying.

Per WorkplaceBullying.org, the definition of workplace bullying per se is “health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators” with the following four hallmarks:

  1. It is repetitive negative behavior on the part of the perpetrator(s) that continues over a period of time.
  2. It includes threatening, humiliating and/or intimidating treatment of the target.
  3. It invariably includes the use of verbally abusive language by the perpetrator(s) to and against the target.
  4. It negatively impacts the target’s work and level of production.

Bullying types

At its core, bullying represents an attempt by the perpetrator(s) to control you at work. (S)he or they may use such tactics as constantly criticizing you, your appearance, your work, etc. Or (s)he or they may backstab you at every opportunity while pretending to be your friend(s). Experts say that workplace bullying is synonymous with the following:

  • Workplace psychological harassment
  • Workplace psychological violence
  • Workplace emotional abuse

Bullying as sexual harassment

Notice that the above definition, hallmarks and synonyms of workplace bullying per se fail to mention anything about sexual harassment. To have an actionable Title VII sexual harassment case based on bullying, your perpetrator(s) must have created a “sexually hostile workplace environment.” For instance, (s)he or they must have done something like subjecting you to continual gender-based slurs, sexualized jokes or comments, etc. Or they must have subjected you to unwelcome “romantic,” i.e., sexual, advances. Bottom line, to rise to the level of actionable Title VII sexual harassment, the basis and aim of the bullying must be your gender.

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