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Can compliments be discrimination or harassment?

On Behalf of | Feb 3, 2023 | Workplace Discrimination |

It’s very clear that insults or derogatory comments can be a form of discrimination or harassment. If a male worker says that his female coworkers are too emotional to be promoted to executive positions, for instance, this is just sexual or gender-based discrimination.

But what about the other side of the coin? What if someone compliments you at work? Is there any way that they could still be harassing you or acting in a discriminatory manner? What you may find is that they are simply trying to hide this harassment by making it appear to be a compliment, but they are still not treating you properly.

Commenting on your appearance

One example of this could be if someone makes overt comments about your appearance and your body. For example, a male boss telling his female secretary, that she looks quite eye-catching in her new outfit crosses the line and could still be blatant sexual harassment, despite the fact that the boss claims he was just trying to give his secretary a nice complement.

Making biased assumptions

Another example is when people express surprise about something because they naturally assume the opposite. For example, someone may tell you that they are impressed that you speak English so well. If you are from a minority ethnic group, even if you were born in the United States, they may actually be trying to say that they assumed people with your background and skin tone would be uneducated. It’s not a compliment, but an underhanded racial insult.

If things like this happen to you on the job, they are a violation of your rights and you need to know what legal steps to take.


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