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5 Microaggressions That May Be Considered Discrimination

By Tom McKinney
NJ Employment Attorney

Microaggressions are a subtle form of discrimination toward a marginalized group. They can be verbal or non-verbal, and someone who commits one may not even realize they’re doing so. Microaggressions can come in the form of statements, questions, or actions. 

When microaggressions are allowed to go unchecked in the workplace, they can easily create a hostile work environment. 

Employees who belong to a marginalized group should be aware of when certain examples of microaggressions cross the line into discrimination. When this happens, you might have grounds to pursue compensation for workplace discrimination. 

1. Comments About Race

Discriminatory statements about a person’s race might be one of the most common examples of microaggressions experienced in the workplace. Often, the speaker doesn’t even realize their comment constitutes a microaggression. Common examples include: 

  • Implying people of Asian heritage are smarter or better at math
  • Implying people of black heritage are better at dancing
  • Assuming someone of Latino heritage wasn’t born in the U.S.
  • Making comments like “I don’t see color.”

The common theme here is when a comment directed at an individual or marginalized group makes a sweeping assumption that reinforces a stereotype. Alternatively, comments that ignore race can be viewed as invalidating or dismissing someone’s experience as a member of a marginalized group.

2. Comments About Sexual Orientation

Comments about the sexual orientation of a person or group are another common instance in which workplace microaggressions can quickly cross the line into discrimination. Examples include: 

  • Using words like “gay” disparagingly
  • Speaking in a voice meant to imitate a non-heterosexual person  
  • Making assumptions about preferences of gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals 
  • Unnecessarily commenting on someone’s sexual orientation

Sexual orientation is a personal matter that should have little bearing on workplace conversations. Microaggressions can range from sweeping statements about gay, lesbian, or bisexual people in general to specific comments or assumptions about an individual co-worker. 

3. Comments About Gender

Gender-based microaggressions are another significant issue in the modern workplace. People of all genders can find themselves dealing with gender-based microaggressions. These often cross the line into sexual harassment and discrimination in a work setting. Examples of gender-based microaggressions include: 

  • Commenting about a person’s gender
  • Refusing to respect a co-worker’s gender identify 
  • Making comments that are anti-trans or misogynistic
  • Making assumptions about a person based on their gender

Anyone can be the victim of gender-based workplace microaggressions, whether they identify as male, female, or gender-fluid.

4. Comments About Religion

Religious microaggression involves making assumptions, perpetuating stereotypes, or joking about someone’s beliefs or practices because they follow a certain religion. Examples of religion-based microaggression include: 

  • Making assumptions about someone’s beliefs or lifestyle
  • Making comments about someone’s religious clothing or jewelry
  • Implying that religious accommodations are a form of preferential treatment
  • Making comments about religious dietary choices or restrictions

As with most other categories of microaggression, there’s rarely a necessary reason to discuss a person’s religious beliefs or practices in the workplace. 

5. Comments About Disabilities

Disabilities are often the topic of workplace microaggressions. These can be targeted at a co-worker, or they can simply be directed at a specific group. These can include questions or comments about physical health conditions and mental health conditions.

Not all disabilities are visible. A person engaging in workplace microaggressions that target disabilities may not even realize their comments are making a co-worker uncomfortable.

Dealing With Microaggressions at Work? Call a New Jersey Discrimination Attorney Today

If these examples of microaggressions are something you’ve experienced in the workplace, a New Jersey discrimination attorney can work with you to identify whether you have grounds for a claim. 

NJ Employment Lawyers, LLC works with clients across New Jersey, helping them fight back against employment discrimination while recovering damages compensation for the discrimination they’ve endured. 

Call NJ Employment Lawyers, LLC, and schedule a consultation with an experienced New Jersey discrimination lawyer today.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is a skilled employment law attorney with New Jersey Employment Lawyers LLC. He has a track record of success in all areas of employment law, including sexual harassment, discrimination, harassment, wrongful discharge, whistleblower claims and hostile work environment claims. Besides litigation, Tom handles severance agreements and severance package reviews/negotiations for over 100 people each year. If you have any questions regarding this blog, contact Tom here.