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Inappropriate Behavior In The Workplace

Inappropriate Behavior In The Workplace

Our law firm is often asked to advise employers and employees as to what constitutes “appropriate” and “inappropriate” behavior in the workplace. It all comes down to risk. Will a certain behavior or type of comment expose the employer to the risk of being sued? That is the question.

We advise our employer clients to reduce their risk as much as possible. With that in mind, there are certain guidelines that are recognized in industry (and in court) when it comes down to what can be potentially referred to as “inappropriate” behavior.

7 Behaviors That May Not Be Acceptable In The Workplace:

  1. Displaying personal pictures, notes and sayings that can be perceived as offensive: Many people work in an individual office or personal cubicle. Making that space comfortable and unique may help you get through the day and brighten your mood. Pictures of your children, pets and friends may remind you of why you do your job each day and work so hard. A funny joke, quote, or even pictures may bring a smile to your face while you are at work. But what you may perceive as personal and funny may not be seen in the same way to others.  Although you may feel that your personal space entitles you to post or display whatever you would like to, sometimes that is not the case. This space ultimately belongs to your employer, therefore, anything used to decorate it can be regulated by your employer.  If anything is seen to be vulgar or offensive, it may be frowned upon and prohibited.
  2. Jokes that are degrading and inappropriate:  How many times have “innocent” jokes been presented in a work environment?  The truth is that these jokes can bring you to the attention of Human Resources and, even in extreme cases, out of a job.   Sometimes, promoting sexism, racism, or making derogatory remarks about a person’s attributes is not acceptable in the modern day work setting.  Again, along the lines of personal items being offensive to others, certain humor or jokes can also make coworkers feel uncomfortable.  Being aware of perception, not intent, is the key when expressing yourself to others.  Something that you may find funny or humorous may produce a completely different reaction from another.3219da92a42be6ac8e6829762eae2cd6
  3. Profanity in public:   Employers work to foster and promote a professional work environment, which includes their employees’ behavior. There is a manner in which to conduct mature, professional business, and sometimes that does not include the use of profanity or colorful language in communication.  Vulgar descriptive words or expletives may not have a place in many professional work environments as they are part of how a business conveys its image to customers or guests. Employee training not only includes the activity and procedure of its workers, but also how they speak and communicate to others.  Therefore, expressing your message in a mature and concise manner without the use of slang and profanities may be more appropriate.
  4. Complimenting on a co-workers appearance: This is sometimes a difficult subject because part of the social conduct between people might involve compliments. However, an individual must again consider the perception of their behavior and not just the intent.  The co-worker that you make a point to compliment every single day may perceive your daily compliments as harassment and may even make them feel uncomfortable.  Make sure your compliments are not crossing any boundaries of common pleasantries and that they are welcome.  If the recipient displays any feeling  that comments or actions are unwelcome, you might want to acknowledge and respect them for it.
  5. Using language that is gender specific: We have grown up in a society that correlates certain things to certain genders. For generations, men and women have had traditional roles in society but this is now changing. We are trying to shape a society where there are no definitive limitations to race and gender. Gender specific language is hard to monitor but in this day and age you it is yet another consideration for people. Here is an example of something that may be inappropriate to say in the workplace,”Tim you have such beautiful handwriting, I would never have known a man wrote this report”.  Making such statements can be perceived as sexist and could fall into the inappropriate category.
  6.  Making positive generalized statements about an ethnic group or race: .  Comments can be perceived as racist even if the intent is to compliment or say something positive.  For example, complimenting a person’s race for being “hard working”, “really smart”, or “great with money” only perpetuates the idea that certain characteristics apply to specific groups.  Promoting stereotypes, whether positive or negative, is inappropriate.  Just as negative adjectives would be taken as offensive, even positive ones can also be taken as offensive because you are making a distinction about someone based on their race.
  7. Asking your co-worker to make generalized statement for their race, gender or sexual preference: You may just be curious, or you may want to know how to approach someone at work, but be careful of the questions you ask. If a person is of a particular race or sexual preference, asking them generalized questions can be inappropriate because you then are showing that you are assigning them the stereotypical characteristics of that particular group.  Everyone is an individual and not every single person of a certain group can be assumed to possess exactly the same features or behaviors.


The common theme here is to have some consideration in your conduct at work,  and perhaps have sensitivity to others.  Rules and culture are varied in different work environments.   Being appropriate for your particular setting might make things more positive.  Navigating personal emotions or perceptions can be very difficult but ultimately requires everyone to be respectful in their actions.  If you or someone you know is experiencing a difficult or possibly hostile work environment, call Lagomarsino Law for consultation. 702-383-2864