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What is visual workplace harassment?

On Behalf of | May 29, 2024 | Employment Law

Workplace harassment affects employees, potentially leading to a toxic work environment, decreased productivity and mental health issues. Employees subjected to harassment often experience anxiety, which can be felt in their personal lives.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employees often don’t report workplace harassment due to fear of retaliation or disbelief in the efficacy of reporting mechanisms. Yet, in the fiscal year 2022, EEOC reported a 20% increase in the cases received from the previous year. Increasingly recognizing and handling workplace harassment can help make the environment a better and safer workplace.

Defining visual workplace harassment

Visual workplace harassment uses visual materials to create a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment. Unlike verbal or physical harassment, visual harassment leverages imagery, objects or written content to target individuals or groups, contributing to an unwelcome atmosphere. The American Psychological Association notes that a toxic workplace is associated with reduced psychological well-being. Some examples of visual workplace harassment include:

  • Showing offensive drawings, posters or cartoons
  • Sharing inappropriate or sexually explicit images or videos
  • Using suggestive or derogatory screensavers or wallpapers on workplace computers
  • Posting demeaning notes, emails or signs targeting specific employees or groups
  • Displaying symbols or logos associated with hate groups or discriminatory ideologies
  • Wearing clothing or accessories with offensive messages or imagery
  • Writing or drawing inappropriate graffiti in common areas such as restrooms or break rooms
  • Using digital communication tools like emails or messaging apps to circulate offensive memes or jokes
  • Leaving provocative or derogatory magazines, books or pamphlets in shared spaces
  • Creating a “wall of shame” or similar displays that mock or belittle certain employees

This form of harassment can be subtle or overt, making it challenging to spot as it would require you to be in the other person’s shoes to notice the harassment. Unfortunately, its effects on the targeted group are damaging.

Employees who have been subjected to workplace harassment can benefit from seeking legal advice. No one should endure workplace harassment; the law provides avenues to address and rectify many of these kinds of grievances. By taking action, you can more effectively protect yourself and contribute to creating a healthier workplace for everyone.