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Preventing Unlawful Harassment: Tips for Supervisors

Alyssa Keehan, Esq., CPCU, ARM
June 2021
Learn how to stop harassment

Everyone deserves a harassment-free workplace. Here are tips and reminders to achieve that goal.

Harassment Types

Scenario 1: An employee is repeatedly ridiculed by co-workers because of his age. The teasing continues even after the employee asks co-workers to stop.

This type of hostile environment harassment occurs when:

  • There is verbal or physical conduct related to a legally protected group.
  • The conduct is unwelcome.
  • The conduct is severe or pervasive.
  • A reasonable person would believe the conduct creates a hostile work environment.

Federal law prohibits harassment based on a person’s:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Gender (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity)
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Citizenship status
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

Some state and local laws or institutional policies also prohibit harassment based on additional protected categories such as marital status.

Scenario 2: An employee is promised a raise if she dates her boss or is demoted because she won’t.

This is an example of quid pro quo harassment, which is when an employee must submit to unwelcome sexual advances to get a job benefit or to avoid a negative job consequence.

What to Do If You Are Harassed or Witness Harassment

The first action is to tell the harasser to stop. Sometimes harassers don’t realize their behavior is offensive.

If offensive behavior continues, report it to someone designated to receive complaints by your institution’s harassment policy. You can file a complaint even if you haven’t told the harasser to stop. You also can file a complaint even if you aren’t the target of the harassment.


It’s against the law to retaliate against anyone who files a harassment complaint, serves as a witness in a harassment investigation, or supports a complainant. Employees are protected from retaliation even if an investigation finds that harassment didn’t occur. The only exception is if an employee intentionally files a false complaint.

Immediately report suspected retaliation to your institution’s Human Resources department or people designated by your institution’s policy.

Strategies to Prevent Workplace Harassment

  • Show respect for co-workers.
  • Be aware that others may find jokes or comments about race, sex, national origin, or other protected groups inappropriate, even if you don’t mean to offend anyone.
  • Avoid touching or hugging others in the workplace unless you are sure it is welcome.
  • Watch for signs that others find your words or behavior offensive.
  • When in doubt, report suspected harassment.

Know How to Report Harassment

Review your institution’s anti-harassment policy and take note of the person or department to whom any harassment should be reported. For easy reference, list the contact information here:

Name: ____________________________

Email: ____________________________

Phone Number: ____________________________

Campus/School Location: ____________________________

Additional Steps for Supervisors

  • Watch for inappropriate or harassing behavior.
  • Model appropriate behavior for your employees.
  • Document reports of harassment and actions taken.
  • Do not promise confidentiality when receiving a report of harassment.
  • Investigate all complaints or forward them to someone qualified to investigate.
  • Follow up and ensure that complaints do not fall through the cracks.
  • Watch for retaliation after a complaint is filed, and take prompt action to stop it.
  • When in doubt, ask HR for help.
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