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Workplace harassment can be subtle and difficult to recognize

Nearly every employee in California and elsewhere knows about harassment and discrimination related to their gender, race, age or sexual orientation. However, you may not realize that some behaviors that you may think are merely irritating or uncomfortable can qualify as harassment. You may also find it interesting to learn that harassment can start subtly, only to gradually increase in severity and leave you wondering if it is all in your head.

According to Business Insider, sexual harassment and other forms of harassment and discrimination include frequent, severe behaviors that create an offensive or hostile work environment or result in an unfair employment decision, such as a demotion or termination without cause. Some examples of subtle harassment can include the following:

  • Telling offensive jokes and accusing the offended person of not having a sense of humor
  • Standing too close to a co-worker or subtly touching the other person, such as putting a hand on a shoulder or small of the back
  • Repeatedly asking questions about one’s personal life that are invasive or disrespectful
  • Giving a backhanded compliment, such as, “You may need to fight off the men wearing an outfit like that.”
  • Displaying posters, books and other material in an office or workspace that can be seen as insensitive or offensive
  • Making flippant or threatening remarks against people of a certain color, gender, nationality or sexual orientation

If you are unsure whether the pervasive behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened qualifies as harassment, it can help to remember that if you have to ask yourself if the behavior is inappropriate, it probably is. You may find relief by speaking with your employer’s human resources department about the incidents. However, in some instances, employers are dismissive or retaliatory about accusations of harassment. You should understand that you have legal recourse in such cases.