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Recognizing Subtle Forms of Harassment in the Workplace

A workplace where harassment is a common, accepted part of the culture is known as a hostile work environment. In a hostile work environment, employees can feel demoralized and unable to produce their best work, which hurts the company. Environments like this can also have high turnover rates because of the abuse employees face.

State and federal employment laws prohibit harassment in the workplace, but this does not mean it does not happen. It does happen, often in subtle ways that outside observers and even the victims themselves do not immediately recognize. Below are four subtle clues that a workplace is less than healthy.

Specific Employees are Targeted

Take notice of who tends to be the “butt” of the jokes in your workplace. Is it always the same individual or group of employees? If so, they could be targets of harassment. Note their body language and responses; are they laughing along with the ones making the jokes, or do they seem like they are trying to ignore the attention?

Foul Language is Part of the Workplace Vocabulary

Foul, crude, and demeaning language are often used to deliver harassment. Listen for this type of language in your workplace. If it is part of everyday conversation, it might not just be banter, it could be harassment. Context is key, so do not assume that an off-color joke or politically incorrect term is necessarily being used to undermine or badger one of your colleagues.

Double Standards are in Place

Harassment puts individuals and groups in uncomfortable positions. If there are double standards in your workplace that benefit certain groups or individuals, you could be witnessing a silent, harmful form of harassment. Take notice of:

  • Different dress codes for female and male employees;
  • Certain employees’ concerns and complaints being taken seriously by management while others are ignored or handled underwhelmingly;
  • Certain individuals having a “pass” to act in inappropriate or obnoxious ways while others are dissuaded or punished for the same behavior. Key phrases that can indicate this include “that is just how he/she is” and “he/she is just kidding around;” and
  • Certain individuals are subjected to unwanted touching or other contact.

Employees are Unwilling to Speak Up or Participate in Discussions and Projects

When harassment is a commonplace part of the work environment, victims can become withdrawn and refuse to take action out of fear of further mistreatment.

Question why your colleagues are not engaged in workplace discussions and see if the withdrawn, quiet employees are also the ones subjected to harassment.

Work with an Experienced Employment Lawyer

When harassment is part of a workplace environment, everybody in that environment suffers. Talented workers keep their ideas and concerns to themselves and often leave the company in search of a more comfortable environment. If you are facing harassment in your workplace, discuss your experience with one of the employment lawyers on our team at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. Contact our office today to schedule your initial consultation with us.

Published December 19, 2017
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