I found the following statement about work-place harassment from another stackexchange:

If this is the US, in order to qualify as harassment legally, the behavior in question also has to be based on a protected characteristic (i.e. sex, race, age, etc). Calling a staff member "selfish" because they are Jewish = harassment; calling a staff member "selfish" because you don't like their shoes = not harassment.

Is it true? Where I can find a complete list that includes all the possible words?

  • There isn't just one list. Each statute has its own list. Multiple federal, state and local statutes apply. For example, the list in New York City, NY, and the list in Provo, UT would probably be different.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 24, 2020 at 0:08
  • @ohwilleke As an example, how can I find a list in NYC or NY?
    – High GPA
    Nov 24, 2020 at 1:08
  • 1
    Answer provided.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 24, 2020 at 1:21

4 Answers 4


Is it true?

No, that is inaccurate. References to protected categories are not a requisite element of harassment.

Typically harassment is defined as a pattern of conduct (thus encompassing two or more acts) consisting of unconsented contact that would cause a reasonable person to be frightened, annoyed, distressed, molested, and/or experience other unpleasant emotions. See, for instance, the definition of harassment in Michigan legislation, MCL 750.411h(1)(c).

The notion of harassment can --but does not necessarily-- involve targeting or attacking of one or multiple protected categories in which the victim belongs. For instance, sexual harassment is understood as harassment with purposes of mocking the victim's sexual orientation, or procuring sexual gratification from/with that person. The adjective "sexual" merely qualifies the context of the troubling pattern of conduct, but that term in and of itself is not what imports the character of harassment.

The examples in the paragraph you quote are inaccurate and/or inconclusive because they would highly depend on the context. The adjective "selfish" is not sufficiently related to Judaism, whence it would be unreasonable for a Jew to allege religious harassment merely because somebody called him "selfish". Instead, a finding of religious harassment would involve repulsive allusions to themes or elements to which Jews would be sensitive based on historical grounds (such as nazism, and antisemitism), doctrinary grounds (jokes about pigs), and so forth.

Where I can find a complete list that includes all the possible words?

For the reasons explained above, there is no such list. Words would have to be assessed in light of the context in which the course of conduct takes place.

Furthermore, not all harassment involves words. Harassment, regardless of its type, can be in the form of drawings, gestures, physical contact (such as sexually molesting a person), voiceless phone calls, and following a person, to name just a few methods.

  • and apparently there's some 51 different codes the word harass appears in: each state code and the USC. And possibly even some extra.
    – Trish
    Aug 21, 2020 at 23:33

In New York City, New York:

The City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on race, color, religion/creed, age, national origin, immigration or citizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, military service, marital status, and partnership status. In addition, the City Human Rights Law affords protection against discrimination in employment based on unemployment status, arrest or conviction record, credit history, caregiver status, and status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses. In housing, there are additional protections based on lawful occupation, family status, any lawful source of income, and status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses. The City Human Rights Law also prohibits retaliation, discriminatory harassment, and bias-based profiling by law enforcement.

There are probably some categories that are found in federal law that are not on this list but it is a good start.


No, harrasment doesn't need to be about a protected class. A Protected class under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and followup laws is one that is not allowed to be discriminated against. Examples for violations of the act are cheap by the dozen: By a state, you could see the Little Rock crisis of 1957 and Cooper v Aaron as its precursor. For a state actor, there are universities investigating alleged misconduct under "Title IX" [of the education amendments of 1972] (20 USC 1681) with a clear gender bias, which has been repeatedly held as a violation of both this and due process. And then there are employers (or state employers) that violate "Title VII" [of the Civil Rights Act] 42 USC 2000e as in Bostock.

While harassment can be a form of discrimination and Title VII violation, you better watch at the two as a Venn diagram: Not all discrimination under Title VII is harassment, and not all harassment is discrimination under Title VII. They just overlap.

For example, it clearly is harassment in the normal sense of the word, if the first thing you do when clocking is to send a demeaning, anonymous message to your colleague because you don't like his brother. That's not Title VII discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964s. You don't discriminate him because of any protected class but because you dislike their brother. However, you still break the law! You'd violate, (among other things) 47 USC 223 a 1 C by that:

(a) Whoever (1) in interstate or foreign communications— (C) makes a telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications [includes the Internet!] device, whether or not conversation or communication ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to abuse, threaten, or harass any specific person;

Ok, there is the word Harass... where else does it pop up? 170 mentions are in the US code! The top two titles are 21 mentions in title 10 (armed forces, they repeat some statutes for the different branches) and 19 in title 18 (Crimes and criminal proceedings). Let's see where the word shows up in Title 18 part 1 (There's two in Part 2):

  • 18 USC 36 Drive-By Shooting
  • 18 USC 43 Force, violence, and threats involving animal enterprises
  • 18 USC 112 Protection of foreign officials, official guests, and internationally protected persons
  • 18 USC 922 Unlawful acts [regulates firearms]
  • 18 USC 970 Protection of property occupied by foreign governments
  • 18 USC 1031 Major fraud against the United States
  • 18 USC 1039 Fraud and related activity in connection with obtaining confidential phone records information of a covered entity
  • 18 USC 1512 Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant
  • 18 USC 1514 Civil action to restrain harassment of a victim or witness [appears twice in the search: as the title contains the word, it's chapter pops up too]
  • 18 USC 1514A Civil action to protect against retaliation in fraud cases
  • 18 USC 1864 Hazardous or injurious devices on Federal lands
  • 18 USC 2246 is the definitions of the Chapter 109A. Sexual Abuse
  • 18 USC 2266 definitions of chapter Chapter 110A. Domestic Violence and Stalking. [the next 3 belong to this chapter]

In all of these cases, the word harass appears in a list of other things that are banned, for example "with the intent to obstruct or harass the harvesting of timber" in section 1864. Said lists often contain the words injury and/or intimidate. What could harass mean in all these different sections?! In such cases, the ordinary meaning is demanded. For harass this would be, according to the Webster:

    • b(1): to annoy persistently
    • b(2): to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct
  • 2: to worry and impede by repeated raids

While other dictionaries might read differently, this brings up the core of the concept: a repeated thing that is annoying or makes a situation unpleasant or hostile. But we can be more clear, in the letter of the laws I pointed to above: 18 USC 1514 defines harassment just for this one section in a more broad way:

  • (d)(1)As used in this section— (B) the term “harassment” means a serious act or course of conduct directed at a specific person that—
    • (i) causes substantial emotional distress in such person; and
    • (ii) serves no legitimate purpose;
  • Title VII -- 42 USC § 2000e -- is about employment, not education. Education is covered in Title IV, which is codified IN 42 USC § 2000c. govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-78/pdf/…
    – Just a guy
    Aug 22, 2020 at 17:14
  • @Justaguy Mixed VII for employers with IX under the Higher Education Amendments of 1972
    – Trish
    Aug 22, 2020 at 17:42
  • 1
    A bit of background: Title VII originally prohibited sex discrimination, Title IV did not. That is why Title IX was needed.
    – Just a guy
    Aug 22, 2020 at 18:07

The quote that you provide most likely refers to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, one of the most well-known United States federal laws that prohibits harassment in the workplace. As other answers point out, there are other federal laws that use the words harassment or might relate to harassment. There are also state and local civil rights laws that are similar to Title VII that may cover different types of harassment or include different sets of protected classes.

But specifically under Title VII, yes, it is true that in order to have a valid claim of harassment that harassment must be based on a protected status. The text of the law that applies to harassment claims says, "It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer - (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin ..." 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/2000e

The EEOC is the federal agency that addresses employment discrimination laws, and they have a discussion of the requirements of a harassment case here: https://www.eeoc.gov/harassment. They also list some employment discrimination laws other than Title VII that prohibit harassment, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, that protect people based on additional protected statuses.

As with many US laws, you need to be familiar with the statutory definitions and case law to know the true scope of each protected status in this list. So, for example, by definition the word "sex" in the list includes pregnancy.

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