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What’s the Difference between Harassment and Workplace Violence?

Problems in the workplace come in all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, there are times when workplace issues are so severe they are illegal. This is the case with violent actions and certain types of harassment. If you are being touched in the workplace – violently or sexually – or you are being discriminated against based on your status in a protected class, you have a right to take legal action.

What Constitute Workplace Violence?

Though there is sometimes overlap between harassment and violence, in order for violence to be present, a person must be physically injured or there must be a threat of physical injury.

Anyone who has worked in a peaceful workplace with only minor squabbles might have a difficult time imagining how bad it can be, but there are actually a great deal of instances in which violence is present in the workplace. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly 1000 people killed in the workplace by co-workers from 1997 to 2010. Approximately two-thirds of these occurred in stabbing incidents.

For more information on violence in the workplace, check out this data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Harassment in the workplace, often connected to sexual advances, occurs when one person targets another with statements or actions that are not necessarily considered outright violence (they can be, in which cases there is overlap), but make the person feel uncomfortable or intimidated. If these statements are related to a person’s status as a member of a protected class, harassment is illegal.

Sexual harassment is one of the most common types of harassment to occur in the workplace. There are two types of sexual harassment:

The first is called quid pro quo and occurs when someone in a supervisory position makes sexual demands of an employee in exchange for a promotion or workplace advantage.

Sexual harassment can also lead to a hostile work environment, which is the second type of sexual harassment and occurs when one or more employees are engaged in inappropriate or offensive behaviors. A hostile work environment can also be present if someone is treated differently in the workplace due to his or her gender or sexual preference.

What to Do about Violence and Harassment in the Workplace

Both workplace harassment and workplace violence are serious issues you should not overlook. If a co-worker or supervisor is making you uncomfortable, it’s important to consider the situation and whether or not legal action is appropriate.

There are also organizations that exist specifically to help you manage problems in the workplace that are related to harassment and violence. If the problem cannot be resolved within your company, it makes sense to report the issue to a third party.

The most important steps you can take to protect yourself and to protect your job is to keep careful notes about the events in question, especially if the problem is ongoing, and follow the guidelines provided by your company regarding harassment and other workplace disputes. Then, if a problem is not resolved, you can take it to the next level. Nobody should be forced to deal with workplace harassment or violence, and taking proper action could prevent the problem from escalating to a more serious, and potentially fatal, level.

If you would like more information on what you should do if you are being harassed in the workplace, of violence has already occurred and you want to take legal action, we can help. Contact New York Employment Lawyers Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your situation.


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