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Microaggressions and workplace sexual harassment

Don't make the mistake of thinking that sexual harassment in the workplace always has to have a major, obvious event -- like your boss asking for sexual favors in exchange for a promotion. These things do happen, but many people understand that crossing a clear line like that could get them into legal trouble.

Instead, they do little things that happen over and over again. They can create a hostile workplace and make you feel very uncomfortable. Experts call these microaggressions, and, though you may not have that one big event to report, they can absolutely take a toll over time.

A wide range

One issue with identifying microaggressions is that they come with a rather wide range and can look very different from one case to the next. They're the type of actions that, while you know the impact they have on you, the person who committed the act may feel compelled to deny.

"Even something as seemingly minor as going into a meeting and having somebody who is in a position of power over you glance down at your breasts every few moments," one expert noted. "Or asking if you want to go out to your boss's beach house and have a glass of wine. There's an entire spectrum of inappropriate behavior that happens. And especially when you take that into the workplace, those seemingly innocuous behaviors are — those are microaggressions. Those are the small things that chip away at someone's feeling of professional value in the workplace."

For instance, she added, it could make someone whose boss continues to leer at them feel like the only reason that they got the job is that their boss feels attracted to them. Whether that's true or not, it can harm their professional outlook and opinion of themselves. It can also put pressure on them to act a certain way if they want to have continued success in the workplace.

On top of that, these microaggressions could begin to change if the person committing them is not forced to stop or even feels like they have a right to act that way. That one invitation on an unwanted date could turn into constant pestering. Those secretive glances could turn into comments about someone's body type or the clothes they're wearing.

That's when things begin to spiral out of control. By the time you get to the "one big event," you may realize that you have been working in a hostile workplace for months or even years.

What now?

No one should ever be subjected to this type of behavior in the workplace. If this happens to you, make sure you understand all of the legal options you have moving forward.

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