Harassment, #MeToo, and Bullying: Gaining Clarity

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Have you noticed the uptick in the number of women who are coming forward with stories of sexual harassment? Hollywood actresses banded together showing their support and solidarity by dressing in black at the Golden Globes, every news channel, publication, and social media platform are writing stories about sexual harassment, and the #metoo campaign is now a worldwide phenomenon.


The #metoo campaign went viral in October 2017 to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. The now recognized hashtag can be seen on practically every social media platform, on billboards and signs, and in intimate conversations among people.  #Metoo has been posted millions of times showing the magnitude of this problem.


Social activist, Tarana Burke originally created the hashtag #metoo back in 2006 on the MySpace site, to promote power through empathy for the millions of women who have experienced sexual abuse. But it was Alyssa Milano who reintroduced the hashtag to show just how many people have experienced abuse.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Where did #metoo come from and what does it have to do with #bullying? “]

All over the world, women AND men, are throwing off the cloak of shame for the last time and standing in unity to proclaim that sexual abuse happened, that it’s not their fault, and that it should never happen again to anyone.

I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to me about how the #metoo campaign relates to the work I do with regards to bullying and incivility. I’ve avoided the topic for a while until I was clear on my reason for getting involved, other than supporting anyone who has been mistreated in any way. And then I received an email from a nurse asking me for help. She told me she was being bullied and harassed at work, shared the story, and then ended her email with #metoo.

What she described to me really didn’t fit the definition of bullying or the #metoo campaign and so I decided to help clear up any misunderstanding regarding the terms.  

Harassment takes bullying to a completely different level. There are legal ramifications involved here so it’s important that you clearly understand their definitions. You may have employees complaining that they are being harassed or discriminated against. So, YOU need to know if their complaints are valid.

It’s important to note that harassment and discrimination are against the law. Bullying is not.


Trying to understand what’s bullying, harassment, discrimination or just rude behavior can be difficult at best. While the law backs up some terms, some are subject to interpretation, so it’s time we set things straight.

[easy-tweet tweet=”What’s the difference between #bullying, #harassment, #discrimination & just #rude behavior?”]


Discrimination is the treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person based on the group or category to which the person is perceived to belong rather than on individual attributes (EEOC). Discrimination also falls under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is weaved very tightly with harassment. Discrimination occurs any time an employee can say he/she was treated differently because of their gender, race, or disability.

Types of discrimination include:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Pregnancy
  • Race/color
  • Religion
  • Sex 

For an employee to claim discrimination, they have to show how they were treated differently than someone else, just because of their characteristics.


Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) harassment is any unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

For employees to claim harassment, their civil rights must have been violated.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment also falls under the legal protection of the Civil Rights Act. This form of harassment involves any unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Interestingly, sexual harassment doesn’t have to be sexual in nature. Just making offensive comments about somebody’s gender can be considered sexual harassment.

I can remember when a young male nurse was hired on my unit. One of the older nurses constantly made nasty comments about men. Once I heard her say, and I quote, “I don’t think men should be nurses and I will do everything in my power to get you out.” Yikes! Of course he just ignored her and actually stayed on our unit for a few years until a better opportunity presented itself to him. He was a really good nurse! Now that was 26 years ago. None of us considered that he was being subjected to sexual harassment – we just thought he was being subjected to a queen bully!! I wonder what would happen now.


Bullying is the repeated patterns of disruptive behavior with the conscious (I know I’m doing this) or unconscious (I don’t even realize) attempt to do harm. For a behavior to be considered bullying, it has to have 3 components:

1. A Target

There HAS to be a target. This target can be a single person or group of people. For example, someone might pick on just one new nurse and make her life a living hell, but is nice to everyone else. Group targets can include the opposite shift (nurse on days hates all nurses on nights), new nurses, or nurses who have a particular ethnic background.

2. Harmful

The behavior has to be harmful in some way. This harm can be to the target (I get diarrhea every time I see that I have to work with this person) or harmful to a patient (a nurse who sabotages or sets a nurse up for failure, affecting patient care).

3. Repeated

I do believe this is the most important criteria for bullying. The behavior can’t be just a one-time event (I get testy with you during a crisis). The harmful behavior has to be repeated over time. Some other experts say that the behavior has to be repeated over the course of 6 months or more. I disagree. I would consider a behavior as bullying if it is repeated several times over the course of several weeks.

If someone tells you they are being harassed, discriminated against, or bullied, please help them. Thank them for telling you and then help them “unpack” their experience to see if they are protected by law.

[easy-tweet tweet=”If someone tells you they are being harassed, discriminated against, or bullied, please help them!”]

If it’s happening to you, what do you do? Tell someone. Ask for help. If you’re the target of sexual harassment, take off the cloak and join the millions of people in the world who are standing in unity to say, “Not here. Not now. Not ever again.”

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,


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