A Case for Microaggressions Policies

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Rebecca Meharchand

In the past several years, microaggressions have gained more and more attention as small, sometimes isolated (and sometimes repeated) forms of discrimination that people of colour and 2SLGBTQ+ peoples have to endure. 

The term “microaggressions” is defined as everyday, subtle interactions or behaviours that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalised groups. They can be intentional or unintentional, but the effect of reinforcing stereotypes and stigma is often the same, regardless of intent. 

Notably, these are not instances that necessarily rise to the level of harassment or workplace violence, but they do have an effect on marginalised employees and their sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace. 

In essence, microaggressions may not always rise to the level of a hostile work environment (though there are certainly instances where that might be the case), but they can make a workplace environment an unwelcoming and non-inclusive space for people of colour and other marginalised groups.

Further, the tricky thing about microaggressions is that, because they may not rise to the level of “harassment”, it is often difficult for employees who experience microaggressions from their coworkers or employers to know what to do about it. The burden of educating non-minority groups is something that disproportionately falls to women, people of colour, and members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. 

Having a policy in place on what to do when experiencing microaggressions in the workplace will do several things:

  1. It will communicate to all employees that these behaviours are unacceptable in the workplace.

By having a specific policy in place on microaggressions, employers send a clear message to all employees that the employer is aware of the everyday experiences that marginalised employees may experience in the workplace, and that those behaviours are not tolerated.

  1. It communicates to marginalised employees that the employer has taken the time to educate themselves. It also educates employees who may not understand the nuances of microaggressions.

Having a microaggressions policy also shows that an employer has taken proactive steps to educate themselves and minimise microaggressions in the workplace, working towards building a diverse, inclusive and equitable work environment. It also helps to alleviate some of the burden placed on marginalised employees, who are often tasked with educating non-marginalized groups about their experiences with microaggressions. 

  1. It provides a potential avenue of recourse for marginalised employees.

By having a microaggressions policy in place, the employer is granting marginalised employees an avenue to address any microaggressions that they may experience in the workplace. As stated earlier, these behaviours do not always rise to the level of workplace harassment or bullying, which would place a legal obligation on an employer to investigate. But, by having a policy in place, marginalised employees have an avenue of recourse, and some information regarding what they can expect. What that will be will depend on how the policy is drafted, but it could range from more employee/employer training sessions on unconscious bias and microaggressions, to a more direct intervention with problematic individuals. 

For more information on how to draft an effective microaggressions policy, or to implement one in your workplace, please contact your Seabrook Workplace Law lawyer.

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