Harassment vs Bullying

The world is less tolerant of harassment and bullying than ever. From the workplace to the school playground, this behavior is finally getting the bad press it deserves, it is finally being brought to the fore and being stumped out. Or at least that’s what you could be forgiven for thinking.

The truth is that the stories you read in the media are only the tip of the iceberg and there is a long way to go. Still, it’s great start. The question is, just what is the difference between harassment and bullying, what defines both of these issues and how do you know if you are the victim of one or the other?

In both cases you should do something about it as teachers and lawmakers should be more than happy to help, but what you can do and how far you can take it may depend on what the issue is and whether it’s harassment or bullying.


Harassment is bad behavior, such as offensive language or physical acts, which are related to a person’s age, sex, race, religion or disability. It is bad behavior that is aimed at a “protected characteristic” the goal of which is to intimidate or humiliate.

It is quite a broad definition because it is also possible to be the victim of harassment even if the “bad behavior” is not aimed at you and does not relate to a characteristic that you have. It may include offensive comments made about the way someone looks or the things they believe, comments that can be made in person, online or through some other direct or indirect means.

Harassment is often thought to be typically of a sexual nature, such as sexual harassment in the workplace. This is a very common form, with people subject to abusive comments or actions from higher ranking managers. It is often thought that only women are the victim of such abuse, but while it is far more common for women to be on the receiving end, men are also known to be the victims of harassment from both male and female colleagues and bosses.


The stereotypical bullying is an in-your-face, physically and verbally abusive bullying that takes place on the playground. It involves kids being pushed around, called names and even having items of theirs being stolen. This is probably the most common and unfortunately it is something that all kids witness at some point or another, but it is not the only form of bulling.

It can be defined as intimidating, malicious behavior. It is often not defined by the law of the land and therefore only becomes an actual criminal act when it crosses over into “harassment”. What is required for it to make this crossover, however, is not very clear.

The good news is that even if there is nothing obviously harassing in nature, employers still have a duty of care to their employees and schools have a duty of care to their students. If this is not met, then grievances can be taken up with the school/workplace, lawsuits can be filed and solutions can be forced onto them.

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