"My boss is mean to me. Isn't this harassment?" The short answer? No.

The answer to this question surprises most people. The mere fact that your boss is “mean” to you is not harassment. It may not be pleasant but unless it is based on your membership in a protected class such as race, age, gender, disability, religion or any other protected class set forth in local, state or federal laws, it is not harassment as defined by the law.

That being said, being mean to employees is certainly an invitation to a claim of harassment because most people do not understand the legal definition of harassment.

In my job counseling employers, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about particular employment practices but there are a few common threads to these complaints.

Also see: Context is key when addressing workplace bullying

Here are the top five irritating things managers do that lead to harassment complaints:

1. Playing favorites. Employees who are not one of the pets inevitably feel that nothing they do will get them in their bosses good graces, so why bother doing a good job.

2. Proving you are the smartest person in the room. Employees understand that bosses need to weigh in on strategy and plans, but the weigh in should not be just to prove you are smarter than someone else. Let’s say you had an employee who just laid out a detailed marketing plan and at the end of this presentation says, “I will send it out by telecopier.” The boss interrupts in a snide voice, “Telecopier? I think those went out in the 80s.  Everyone knows the correct term is Facsimile.” In a word – douchey.

3. Creating extra work just to prove you touched something. This one is related to number 2.  It’s the boss that is a handed a letter that has already been printed on letterhead and decides to change the address from “One Park Place” to “One Park Pl.” Was this really necessary? It may seem minor, but when stuff like this occurs on a regular basis, it is hard for employees to see it as legitimate criticism rather than harassment.

4. Yelling/cursing at employees. This one hopefully does not require further explanation.

5. Bad-mouthing the employee to others in the company. I have had lots of complaints about the manager who feels compelled to tell everyone in the company that an employee is awful. Even if the complaints about the employee are true, it seems petty to broadcast it to people who have no real reason to know the information. It also often occurs when the manager has told everyone else but the employee that there are issues. Being passive aggressive does little to address the actual problem but does a lot to create an unproductive environment.

Christina A. Stoneburner is a partner at Fox Rothschild. She is a member of the firm's Labor & Employment Department where she counsels clients on complying with applicable federal and state laws and developing strategies to avoid liability. This posting originally appeared in the firm’s Employment Discrimination Report blog

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