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Understanding the subtle forms of workplace discrimination

When many think of harassment or discrimination in the workplace, they think of blatant examples like demanding sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or keeping a job. However, you may be unaware that while such obvious examples exist in workplaces across California, employees also endure subtler forms of harassment or discrimination.

Subtle actions or behaviors that are discriminatory or harassing in nature may seem harmless or even accidental at first. However, such actions can often become a pattern and lead to a hostile work environment for the victims.

Types of subtle harassing or discriminatory actions

Both federal and California laws prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, pregnancy, religion, age, national origin and more. While discrimination or harassment toward such employees is illegal, managers, supervisors, colleagues or more may exhibit subtle behaviors over time that contribute to a negative workplace for many. Such behaviors or actions may include:

  • Excluding certain employees. Whether at team meetings, office parties or more, regularly isolating certain employees can be damaging.
  • Engaging in stereotypes. Your manager may regularly talk over or interrupt women, ask female employees to make copies or answer phones and more.
  • Making inappropriate jokes. While jokes may seem harmless, constant inappropriate or stereotypical jokes can lead to a hostile work environment.
  • Asking inappropriate questions. This could include asking an employee about their age, their plans to start a family, where their parents are from and more.

Many other actions can be perceived as discriminatory or harassing in nature, such as failure to make eye contact, exhibiting certain body language or other nonverbal cues and more hostile behaviors.

What to do after enduring subtle workplace discrimination

Such subtle yet consistent actions, behaviors or words can grate on you and your work. You may question whether you have any options to address the situation and move forward at the company. In some situations, confronting the offending individual may be enough to address and resolve the situation.

When this fails to result in anything productive, check your employee handbook to determine the process for reporting such behavior. Taking note of the specific offending actions and when they occurred can be helpful in proving a pattern of inappropriate behavior. Discuss the matter with your company’s human resources professional or other applicable professional to alert them to the matter and talk about possible resolutions.

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