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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Youth at Work

Select any of the questions below to get quick answers to some common questions about illegal workplace harassment.

  1. What are some examples of workplace harassment?
  2. Is it illegal to be harassed because I complain about job discrimination or talk to the EEOC?
  3. What should I do if I am harassed by a manager, co-worker, or other person in my workplace?
  4. What can I do if I witness workplace harassment?
  5. What will my employer do if I report harassment?
  6. What can happen to me if I harass others at work?
  7. Is all workplace harassment illegal?
  8. Does harassment have to occur at work for it to be illegal?
  9. Is it illegal for someone to harass another person who is the same sex, race, color, national origin, or religion or who has the same disability?
  10. Is it illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass certain people, but not others?
  11. Is it illegal to be harassed because of two prohibited reasons, like your sex and race?
  12. Am I protected from workplace harassment if the harasser is not my supervisor?
  13. What if I am harassed at work because I am male or female, but the conduct is not sexual in nature?
  14. Are men protected from sex harassment?
  15. Is it sexual harassment if someone I used to date won't leave me alone at work?
  16. Am I protected if I am discriminated against or harassed because of my sexual orientation?
  17. If my co-worker says something mean to me or flirts with me at work, is that illegal?

What are some examples of workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment involves unwelcome and offensive conduct that is based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, disability, age (age 40 or older), or genetic information. Examples of harassment include offensive or derogatory jokes, racial or ethnic slurs, pressure for dates or sexual favors, unwelcome comments about a person's religion or religious garments, or offensive graffiti, cartoons or pictures.


Is it illegal to be harassed because I complain about job discrimination or talk to the EEOC?

Yes. The laws enforced by EEOC protect you from being harassed because you report discrimination to someone at your company, to EEOC, or to your parents, your teacher, or another trusted adult. This is true even if it turns out that the conduct you complained about is not found to be harassment. We refer to this as your right to be protected from retaliation.


What should I do if I am harassed by a manager, co-worker, or other person in my workplace?

If you are being harassed at work, you have a responsibility to tell your employer. If you feel comfortable, you also should tell the harasser that you find his or her behavior unwelcome. You also can talk to your parents, another adult, or the EEOC.

Find out if your company has a policy on harassment. The policy should tell you who in your company is responsible for handling harassment issues. If you are uncomfortable talking to the designated person, you should talk to your manager or another manager in your company. Once your employer knows that you are being harassed, it has a responsibility to correct the situation and protect you from further harassment. If you do not promptly report workplace harassment, it may affect your rights.


What can I do if I witness workplace harassment?

If you witness workplace harassment, you should tell your employer. You also can tell the harasser that his or her behavior is not funny and must stop. Finally, don't laugh at the conduct or give the harasser an audience - that will only encourage further harassment. You also can talk to your parents, another adult, or the EEOC.


What will my employer do if I report harassment?

Once your employer knows that you are being harassed, it has a responsibility to correct the situation and protect you from further harassment. Your employer should promptly and thoroughly investigate your claim. This may mean that your employer will interview you, the harasser, and any other witnesses. If your employer determines that you were harassed, it should take steps to stop the behavior from continuing, such as transferring the harasser to another location. Your employer also must make sure that you are not punished, treated differently, or harassed for reporting harassment.


What can happen to me if I harass others at work?

Your employer has a responsibility to protect employees from harassment. If your employer determines that you have been harassing others at work, you may face one or more of the following consequences: (1) verbal or written warning; (2) counseling; (3) transfer to another location or job; (4) suspension; or (5) termination. These are just examples of the types of actions an employer can take against you. The best thing to do is not harass others at work. Act professionally and treat others the way you want to be treated.


Is all workplace harassment illegal?

No, not all workplace harassment is illegal. The laws enforced by EEOC do not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious. For workplace harassment to be illegal, the conduct must either be severe (meaning very serious) or pervasive (meaning that it occurred frequently). One instance of harassing conduct is generally not sufficient, unless the conduct is very serious, such as a physical assault. If you believe you are being harassed at work, you should report the conduct to your supervisor or another manager, even if it happens only once or does not seem very serious.


Does harassment have to occur at work for it to be illegal?

No. Federal law protects you from job discrimination and harassment, whether it occurs on or off the work site. For example, you may have a potential claim for sexual harassment if your manager pressures you for dates while at a work-related conference.


Is it illegal for someone to harass another person who is the same sex, race, color, national origin, or religion or who has the same disability?

Yes. It is illegal for people to harass others of their own sex, religion, race, color, national origin, or religion. It also is illegal for a person with a disability to harass other individuals with the same disability or genetic information or other disabilities or genetic information.


Is it illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass certain people, but not others?

Yes. It is illegal for someone to harass a sub-set of a protected group. For example, a manager may not treat Black females differently than Black males based on a sexual stereotype.


Is it illegal to be harassed because of two prohibited reasons, like your sex and race?

Yes. It is illegal to discriminate because of the combination of two protected categories, like your national origin or religion. For example, it is illegal for a clothing store to harass Muslim women, even if they do not harass other women or Muslim men.


Am I protected from workplace harassment if the harasser is not my supervisor?

The laws enforced by EEOC protect you from being harassed by anyone in your workplace. The harasser can be your manger, a manager in another area, a co-worker, or others in your workplace, such as clients or customers.


What if I am harassed at work because I am male or female, but the conduct is not sexual in nature?

Gender-based harassment, i.e. conduct that is not sexual in nature, but is based on the gender of the individual employee, is also unlawful. For example, if a manager tells female employees "they belong at home," the manager has engaged in harassment based on sex.


Are men protected from sex harassment?

Yes. Both men and women are protected from workplace harassment on the basis of sex.


Is it sexual harassment if someone I used to date won't leave me alone at work?

It may be if you make clear to the person you used to date and your company that you are no longer interested in a relationship. If the person persists in seeking to continue the relationship or in making sexual advances or comments to you, you may have a potential claim for sexual harassment.


Am I protected if I am discriminated against or harassed because of my sexual orientation?

While federal law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation, it does prohibit same sex harassment. For example, if a gay male employee is being harassed at work by other males because he acts too feminine, he may have a claim for sex discrimination which can be filed with the EEOC. In addition, some state and local laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


If my co-worker says something mean to me or flirts with me at work, is that illegal?

The laws enforced by EEOC do not prohibit simple teasing, casual comments, or single incidents that are not very serious. For inappropriate behavior to be illegal, it must be unwelcome or unwanted. It must also be severe (meaning very serious) or pervasive (meaning that it happened frequently). One instance of harassing conduct, such as one instance of a co-worker flirting with you or one mean comment made by a co-worker, generally is not illegal, unless the conduct is very serious, such as a physical assault or use of a racial slur. Even so, if you believe you are being harassed at work, you should report the conduct to your supervisor or another manager, even if it happens only once or does not seem very serious.