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Harassment refers to words or behavior that threatens, intimidates, or demeans a person. Harassment is unwanted, uninvited, and unwelcome and causes nuisance, alarm, or substantial emotional distress without any legitimate purpose.

In New York State, a person would be guilty of the crime harassment in the first degree "when he or she intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following such person in or about a public place or places or by engaging in a course of conduct or by repeatedly committing acts which places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury. This section shall not apply to activities regulated by the national labor relations act, as amended, the railway labor act, as amended, or the federal employment labor management act, as amendedHarassment in the first degree is a class B misdemeanor.”

In employment law, harassment is a form of employment discrimination in violation of 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). In employment law, harassment is defined as offensive, unwelcome conduct based on a victim's protected characteristic, that is so severe or pervasive that it affects the terms and conditions of the victim's employment. Harassment may take the form of words, actions, gestures, demands, or visual displays, such as photographs or cartoons. 

Sometimes, harassment is used more generally to refer to repeated irritating or bothersome behavior, such as persistent telephone calls from a debt collector.

See also: sexual harassment

[Last updated in March of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]