Just like there’s a thin line between love and hate (like the old Persuaders song suggests), there is also a thin line between harassment and disrespect. For the uninitiated, disrespect can come in many forms, such as malicious gossip, the silent treatment or raising one’s voice, as well as profane language.

Ultimately, disrespect revolves around the lack of civility among employees or the lack of respect for employees’ personal property or space. Disrespect can also involve a lack of respect for opposing viewpoints, as well as political and religious views. While this may sap morale and make the workplace tense or difficult, disrespect is generally not actionable. 

Conversely, harassment is like disrespect on steroids. It is a pattern of behavior that creates a hostile work environment for the affected employee. As such, such behavior must be unwelcome and pervasive. Indeed, a number of harassment complaints are based on quid pro quo actions (a manager asking an employee for sex in exchange for continued employment, for example), but there are a number of facts surrounding harassment claims that employees may not realize, including:

–          Harassment can be written as well as verbal

–          Men can harass men, and women can harass women

–          Age-related harassment is also illegal

Suffice it to say, disrespect and harassment have distinct differences, but the former can easily lead to the latter. An affected employee can also seek legal action if disrespectful behavior is not addressed as per the instructions in an employee handbook.

If you have questions about whether you have a viable harassment case, an experienced employment law attorney can advise you.