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What is a microaggression?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2024 | Employment Law

In the workplace, employees sometimes suffer from microaggressions. These are small statements, comments or gestures that have an impact on how that employee experiences the workplace. For instance, someone who experiences continual microaggressions may say that they have a hostile working environment.

Microaggressions are often subtle. They include minor things that reinforce stereotypical perceptions. These could be comments, jokes or even compliments. This can make microaggressions hard to identify, even for the people who are acting as the aggressors and creating a hostile work environment, but they are a very real and widespread issue. 

Reinforcing stereotypes

It would clearly be discriminatory if someone claimed that employees of a certain ethnic background were uneducated or unintelligent. This would be a form of discrimination based on racial background or national origin.

But a microaggression could be someone making a comment about how impressive that employee’s grasp of the English language is or how it’s surprising that they have an advanced degree. A coworker may even say this as if it’s a compliment, seeming to praise the person for their college degree or their language abilities.

But what they are really doing is reinforcing the stereotype that this individual is expected to be uneducated and to struggle to speak proper English. This may not be true in any fashion. Regardless of their background, that employee may have lived in the United States for their entire life. English may be their first language. But these microaggressions still create a hostile work environment where they feel ostracized based on qualities they can’t control, such as their ethnic background.

Situations like this can grow very complex. Those who are involved need to know about their legal options.