IntegrityStar UCF Compliance & Ethics Newsletter UCF Compliance & Ethics Newsletter

The Subtleties of Discriminatory Harassment

The law and university policy prohibits harassment or discrimination based on race, color, sex (including pregnancy and parental status, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation), religion or non-religion, national origin, ethnicity, age, genetic information, marital status, political affiliations, veteran’s status, or disability (otherwise known as protected classes). The law is very specific about what can be considered discriminatory harassment. There are two forms of discriminatory harassment – namely, Quid Pro Quo Harassment and Hostile Environment Harassment. Quid Pro Quo Harassment occurs when submission to or rejection of unwelcome conduct based on a protected class is used as a basis for decisions affecting an individual’s education, employment or participation in a university program or activity.  An example of this is a supervisor requiring a direct report to go on a date in order to receive a promotion.  Hostile Environment Harassment is conduct based upon any of the protected classes that is so severe or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with, limits, deprives, or alters the terms or conditions of education, employment, or participation in a university program or activity.

Some harassment is blatantly obvious, such as repeated sexually suggestive comments, derogatory ethnic labels, threats of violence, or refusal to work with someone because of their race or ethnicity. In these examples, the behavior can create a hostile environment where the targeted employee finds it difficult to be productive. As stated above, harassment unreasonably interferes with or adversely affects an individual’s work, preventing the person from completing regular job duties.

Most of us would never deliberately harass another person. But small, seemingly harmless actions can add up to creating a situation that could be considered hostile. The most innocent remarks or behaviors can have a negative effect on morale, teamwork, and productivity.  It is our responsibility to recognize harassment in all its subtle forms whenever it occurs, and to take steps to prevent it. This supports our university’s commitment to mutual respect for all employees.

Recognizing Harassment

Harassment can be subtle and difficult to recognize. Consider the following examples of situations that may lead to or contribute to creating a hostile work environment:

  • Laraine has a great sense of humor and loves to tell jokes, including some that make fun of elderly people. People seem to laugh at these jokes in the office, and Laraine thinks they lighten things up.
  • One of the employees that Kai supports seems impatient with Kai and is sometimes downright rude. One day she loses her temper and calls Kai derogatory names that refer to his Asian heritage.
  • Hamid practices a religion that is not common in his office. People often ask him questions about his religion, especially when he takes time off for religious holidays. One day Hamid hears his supervisor talking to a co-worker and is surprised to hear her say that he takes too many days off, adding that it’s because of “his crazy religious beliefs.”

In isolation, each of the above incidents may not reach the level of a hostile work environment.  However, if the conduct is repeated or is part of a larger pattern of similar behavior, they could be considered harassment under the law. Also, even if they don’t reach the threshold of discriminatory harassment under the law, the conduct falls below the university’s expectations set forth in its Code of Conduct regarding civility and inclusiveness.

Offensive jokes, remarks, or language are never permitted in the office.  Likewise, name-calling is never allowed. In Kai’s and Hamid’s cases, the derogatory remarks about race and religion are not appropriate, and those employees should be reported to a supervisor or the UCF IntegrityLine immediately.

Remember that what constitutes offensive behavior, whether or not it could be legally considered harassment, is determined by the perception of the recipient, not the intent of the sender.  In the right circumstances, one innocent remark can cause damage. Over time, small things can add up to have the same negative results as harassment. It’s important for each of us to take a close look at our actions and words to ensure they do not have a negative effect on others.

Your Responsibility for Preventing Harassment

Each of us is responsible for helping to create a positive work environment. One aspect of this responsibility is being proactive in noticing and reporting potentially harmful or harassing situations. Supervisors are required to report any possible violations of our equal opportunity or harassment policies to the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), ideally before they become serious or repetitive enough to create a hostile environment. All employees are encouraged to contact OIE if they are experiencing or have questions about concerns of this nature. Also, all non-confidential employees are required to immediately report to OIE all relevant details about an incident of sex/gender-based discrimination or harassment, sexual harassment, or sexual violence (including relationship violence and stalking) that involves any student. Reports can be submitted to OIE by contacting them at, calling 407-823-1336, or completing OIE’s Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment & Retaliation Complaint Form located on their website at For more information on how to submit a report, please visit the office’s website at or UCF’s Let’s Be Clear website at

Our university commits to taking all complaints seriously and handling them according to our policies and the law.  The law prohibits discriminatory harassment, but it does not force people to be polite to one another.  However, our university policies and ethical standards expect employees to treat each other fairly and with respect.  Regardless of the legal implications, demeaning, degrading, or humiliating remarks or actions will not be allowed and should also be reported.  Don’t ignore potentially harmful actions because they are not “over the line” into legal harassment.  Everyone works better in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, and each of us must take steps to preserve that atmosphere in the workplace.