What is covert harassment at work?

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2024 | Employee Rights

Covert harassment in the workplace, a subtle form of mistreatment that often goes unnoticed, is a significant challenge for employees in New York. Unlike overt forms of harassment, which are blatant and easily identifiable, covert harassment involves indirect actions or behaviors that undermine or belittle the target. 

For employees in New York, understanding the nuances of covert harassment is crucial for recognizing when they might be experiencing or witnessing it. One of these is that harassment must be in response to a protected class or activity. 

Identifying covert harassment

Covert harassment can be challenging to identify due to its subtle nature. Signs include consistently being left out of meetings or discussions relevant to one’s job, receiving unfounded negative evaluations or noticing a pattern of being passed over for promotions without a clear reason. 

While not overtly aggressive, these actions create an environment of exclusion and undervaluation for the victim. Employees should pay attention to patterns of behavior that seem designed to isolate, intimidate or undermine them, even if these actions aren’t directly confrontational.

Legal protections in New York

New York State offers robust protections against workplace harassment, including covert forms. The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) apply to these cases. 

These laws recognize the broad spectrum of harassment and don’t require the harassment to be severe or pervasive to be actionable, a standard that is often difficult to meet with covert harassment. 

Victims are encouraged to document incidents meticulously, including dates, times and any witnesses because this documentation can be critical in pursuing a legal claim. It behooves victims to work with someone familiar with these matters so they can learn their options and develop a plan to address the issues. 

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