Is there more than sexual harassment?

I was wondering if all forms of harassment were considered and categorized as sexual harassment, even if harassment had no sexual connotations. For example, is repeatedly calling someone considered sexual harassment or just harassment?

Posted  10-10-2012

Ann Kiernan replies:

There is a lot of misunderstanding about harassment, so you are not alone. Back in the 1990’s sexual harassment was all you heard about, but now it is recognized that illegal harassment goes far beyond that. Harassment is severe and unwanted verbal, visual, or physical behavior based on an employee’s protected characteristics: age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, gender identity, religion, national origin, veteran/military status, genetic characteristic, and family/medical leave.

So, if the repeated calls are part of a campaign to get a co-worker to go out with the caller, and the recipient has said she/he is not interested, that may well be sexual harassment. Under some circumstances, excessive telephone calls may be criminal harassment under a state’s statutes. For instance, in New Jersey, harassment is a petty disorderly persons offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail if someone “makes or causes to be made, communication or communications anonymously, or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm”. Now, in order for there to be criminal liability, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had the purpose to harass. An argument or a late night phone call or two does not necessarily rise to the level of harassment.


Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.