Unveiling Subtle Forms of Workplace Harassment

Unveiling Subtle Forms of Workplace Harassment: Recognizing the Unseen Challenges

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Workplace harassment is not always blatant or overt; it can manifest in subtle ways that are equally damaging to the well-being of colleagues and employees. Identifying these covert forms of harassment and constructively addressing them as they occur is crucial for fostering a safe and respectful work environment. This article outlines several lesser-known yet impactful examples of subtle forms of workplace harassment that can often fly under even the most proactive HR manager’s radar. 

Microaggressions and Backhanded Compliments

Microaggressions are seemingly harmless comments or actions that communicate derogatory or belittling messages about an individual’s identity, such as race, gender, age, abilities, or sexual orientation. These can include backhanded compliments, stereotyping, or dismissive behaviour. For instance, commenting on someone’s appearance and attributing their success to superficial factors rather than their skills falls into this category.

Exclusion and Social Isolation

Being intentionally excluded from meetings, social gatherings, or discussions can lead to feelings of isolation and insignificance. This exclusion can stem from biases or personal animosities and can create a hostile work environment for the targeted individual. Exclusion can also come about due to assumptions a group might make about an individual based on their culture, religion, appearance or age, etc. For example, a group neglects to invite a specific colleague to a workplace festivity under the assumption that their colleague’s religion or culture would make them uninterested in participating.

Undermining and Withholding Information

Colleagues who deliberately withhold essential information or undermine the work of others can create an environment of confusion and frustration. This tactic can be used to discredit someone’s work, making them appear incompetent or redundant and be seen as intentionally sabotaging an individual’s ability to succeed in their role. 

Inequitable Workloads

Assigning significantly more or less work to specific employees based on personal preferences, biases, or discriminatory attitudes can contribute to feelings of injustice and inequality. Such unfair distribution of tasks can hinder career advancement and breed resentment. Ensure your company’s workload is delegated based on reasonable measures such as an individual’s performance, role, or niche. 

Subtle Ageism

Subtle ageism involves making comments or assumptions based on someone’s age that may not be overtly offensive but still perpetuate stereotypes. For instance, assuming an older employee is not tech-savvy or implying that a younger employee needs more experience. Both examples can undermine your employees’ confidence and value.

Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Veiled sarcasm, snide remarks, or passive-aggressive behaviour can create a hostile atmosphere. This form of harassment can be challenging to address as it often involves indirect communication (such as eye-rolling), insensitive humour and plausible deniability. 

Invisible Pressures and Insinuations

Subtly pressuring someone to conform to certain norms, beliefs, unfair expectations or behaviours through insinuations or veiled threats can be highly damaging. It creates a sense of unease and coercion, impacting an individual’s autonomy and self-expression. Two more common ways invisible pressure becomes apparent is when employees become anxious and fearful about taking sick days or using the vacation time they are entitled to.

Misuse of Power and Gaslighting

Misusing one’s authority to manipulate or control others is a form of subtle harassment. Gaslighting, where someone is made to doubt their perceptions or sanity, can profoundly undermine an individual’s confidence and sense of reality, both of which can cause long-term trauma and anxiety that can persist outside of the workplace. 

In Closing

Some forms of behaviour that constitute workplace harassment can be so subtle that, without awareness, even the most mindful managers and workers could become susceptible to unintentionally committing them. 

Addressing subtle forms of workplace harassment is essential for fostering a truly inclusive and respectful work environment. Organizations need to raise awareness about these covert behaviours, encouraging employees to speak up and report any signs of subtle harassment. 

Implementing comprehensive anti-harassment policies, conducting regular sensitivity training, and promoting open communication are vital steps in eradicating these hidden challenges. By acknowledging and addressing subtle forms of harassment, we can ensure that workplaces become spaces where each individual is treated with dignity and respect.

If You Have Questions, We Can Help!

If you’re an employee or employer within BC that has questions about employment law, workplace harassment or discrimination, our Employment Law Specialists at Spraggs Law are here to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 604 359 1618 or online today.

Please note: This article does not contain legal advice. If you would like advice on your specific situation, please contact Spraggs Law.

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