Petty Slights and Harassment in the Workplace | Bantle & Levy



Understanding the Difference between Petty Slights and Harassment in the Workplace

Workplace harassment is a prevalent issue that affects many employees. Nearly 44% of people in the workplace have experienced harassment at work in the United States. The number of people who have experienced harassment, though, is likely less than the number of people who feel they have been harassed. What we mean by that is that what would be considered harassment and inappropriate in person isn’t necessarily always harassment in the legal sense. Sometimes, what people are experiencing are called petty slights.

Petty slights can still have a profound effect on you, but not necessarily in the eyes of the law. It’s important to distinguish between petty slights in the workplace and harassment because one has far more legal ramifications than the other. The employee rights attorneys at Bantle & Levy can explain the difference between the two.

Petty Slights vs Workplace Harassment

What are Petty Slights in the Workplace?

Petty slights are minor offenses or insults. These actions can include:

  • Verbal comments
  • Teasing
  • Exclusion from social activities

Examples of petty slights would be:

  • A white co-worker asked a black co-worker if they played sports
  • A white co-worker asks non-white co-workers if they are U.S. citizens
  • A male co-worker comments on a female co-worker’s appearance even while it adheres to the dress code

The important thing to know is that none of these behaviors – while feeling aggressively hurtful by nature – violate any laws or regulations. This means that these behaviors likely will not warrant any legal action unless you can prove there is intended targeting going on. That being said, these actions can still have a significant impact on your emotional and mental well-being.

What is Workplace Harassment?

Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct that violates a person’s dignity and creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, and/or offensive environment. It is also considered harassment when the behavior creates an intimidating or hostile environment that substantially interferes with an individual’s work performance. Harassment can take various forms, including verbal, physical, and sexual.

Examples of workplace harassment would be:

  • A co-worker using ethnic slurs, whether they are a part of the group who is the target of slurs or not
  • One co-worker touching or speaking to another co-worker sexually without consent and/or while they are in a position of authority over the other
  • A manager or supervisor forcing an employee to perform menial or demeaning tasks outside of their job description

Surface Level Similarities

The reason many may feel they are or should be of the same level is because they both result in negative and long-lasting effects on the victim’s mental health, job satisfaction, and overall well-being. Petty slights may not feel as overt, but they can oftentimes add to the mental effect on someone. If you are the victim of constant petty slights, you may find yourself gaslighted into thinking you’re not a victim.

The Key Differences

While petty slights and harassment may share some similarities, the difference is significant enough that one is illegal and the other is not. The main difference lies in the severity and frequency of the actions.

Petty slights are often one-off incidents that may not have a visible lasting impact on someone’s well-being. On the other hand, harassment is characterized by repeated behavior that can occur over an extended time period and has a more severe effect on individuals’ mental, physical, and potentially financial health. This means that repeated petty slights that are similar and targeted at you or other specific co-workers may be signs of subtle harassment.

The Importance of Addressing Petty Slights

While petty slights may not meet the legal definition of harassment, they still have a detrimental impact on individuals’ well-being and job satisfaction. Employees need to report this behavior to their employers through Human Resources. While this may open you up to more petty slights if your mistreatment maintains or increases – meaning that you may be a victim of retaliation – you can respond with a legal suit.

Even if your employer does nothing, ignoring petty slights will likely lead to a toxic workplace culture which is illegal. While you may feel like you can’t do something immediately, you can immediately act to protect yourself and put yourself on the path to taking legal action.

Contact the Employee Rights Attorneys at Bantle & Levy For Help

While petty slights may not have the same legal consequences as harassment, they should still be taken seriously by employers. You don’t deserve to be the victim of petty slights. If you are unsure how you should report your experience to your employer and what you should do next, contact the employee rights attorneys at Bantle & Levy. We can help you determine what your next steps are and what legal protections you have that are being violated. Contact us today.

Bantle & Levy
Bantle & Levy

Lee Bantle is a partner at Bantle & Levy LLP. He has extensive legal expertise, admitted to the bars of the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. With a distinguished academic background and clerkship experience, he has been recognized as a top-rated civil rights attorney and esteemed lawyer. In addition to his successful career, he has actively contributed to various legal organizations and serves as a faculty member for NYU's Annual Workshop on Employment Law for Federal Judges.


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