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Power Harassment in the Workplace

Power harassment involves an employee wielding their position or physical size over another in the workplace.

Posted by Timothy Dimoff on October 12th, 2021

There are many kinds of harassment that can take place in the workplace. One of the most difficult to investigate is when a person in a position of power harasses an employee.

This is often referred to as “power harassment.” It can take many forms but the main element is that the person doing the harassing has power over the person being harassed.


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Power Harassment in the Workplace


A simple definition of power harassment is any kind of behavior in which a superior takes advantage of his or her position in the workplace to cause co-workers physical pain or emotional distress.

This can be due to superiority by means of relative work position, physical size, or otherwise. Power harassment also includes the actions of a supervisor toward a subordinate, interactions between equal colleagues, and even the actions of a subordinate toward a supervisor, especially if is due to physical size.


Power Harassment Examples


The most common example is a boss mistreating an employee when he/she is in a bad mood. This can manifest as condescending reactions to employee questions, shifting the blame on employees for their own incompetency, and withholding critical information from an employee that he/she needs to know.

Other types of power harassment include:

  • Physical attacks including acts of force or violence
  • Psychological attacks including intimidation or verbal abuse
  • Segregation or any kind of ostracism
  • Excessive demands (e.g. assigning work that is impossible to perform or obviously unnecessary)
  • Demeaning demands (e.g. assigning work clearly below the employee’s capability or not assigning work at all)
  • Intrusion upon the individual, including the employee’s personal life



RELATED: How Do the World’s Most Ethical Companies Prevent Harassment?


How to Deal with Power Harassment


Since the employer is automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action (such as termination, failure to promote or hire, and loss of wages), it is important that every complaint be investigated immediately and steps to end the harassment be taken as soon as possible.

Steps that should be taken to prevent power harassment in the workplace include:

  • Make it clear that power harassment in the workplace will not be tolerated.
  • Establish appropriate employment regulations and guidelines and ensure that all employees are aware of and understand them.
  • Provide training on how to prevent and deal with power harassment.
  • Provide offenders with training to prevent any re-occurrence.


RELATED: The Complete Guide to Workplace Harassment Investigations


While there is no way to totally prevent power harassment, taking these steps will help to prevent an incident, improve investigations, and protect the company in the event of legal issues.

Timothy Dimoff
Timothy Dimoff

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues.
He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University.

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