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When workplace behavior crosses the line

Category: Hostile Work Environment

No person deserves to be harassed or mistreated in the workplace. However, the reality is that there are many companies where a less professional atmosphere leaves the door open for inappropriate conduct. This can leave employees confused about their rights and unsure if they are the victim of harassment. In many cases, harassment or discrimination is not as obvious as people might expect.

These issues can often affect young workers who are new to professional workplaces. In order to judge whether a casual workplace has devolved into a hostile work environment, workers can assess their situation by taking a few steps to stop unwanted or uncomfortable treatment and see if the behaviors change.

Many people may be afraid or embarrassed about blatantly confronting offensive supervisors or co-workers. That is why it might be helpful to start with a less pointed approach to addressing inappropriate behaviors.

  • Speak up: If something seems offensive or inappropriate, a person can say something as simple as “That makes me feel uncomfortable,” to set boundaries and address the situation. This can also send a strong message that a worker is confident and in control without escalating an exchange into a heated argument.
  • Stay silent: On the flip side of this issue, staying silent by not laughing at inappropriate jokes or engaging in offensive conversations can also be a clear sign that such behavior will not be tolerated.
  • Keep it professional: Casual workplaces can involve socializing outside of work or sharing a more personal relationship with supervisors. This can be misinterpreted as a go-ahead for some people to act inappropriately. Workers who feel that certain exchanges or out-of-work meetings are crossing a line can address the situation by clarifying the purpose and goals of these events in order to reiterate that they should be work-related.

If these measures fail to remedy an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation, it could be a sign that a worker’s rights are being violated. Under these circumstances, a person has the right to speak with an attorney to explore what options they have to protect themselves and take more aggressive steps to put an end to unlawful behavior in the workplace.

Source: Business Insider, “5 Ways to Deal With a Flirty Co-Worker (in the Least-Awkward Way Possible),” May 27, 2014

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