Ridding the Workplace of Sexual Harassment Means No More Excuses

It’s time for an intervention—

Inappropriate behavior is inappropriate behavior no matter the circumstance, reaction, or company culture. Fortunately, there are practical ways to help your employees filter their words and actions at work. Let’s make this the year we make meaningful progress on ridding the workplace of sexual harassment once and for all—starting with eliminating excuses like:

1.  "It was just a joke!"

Most organizations want people to enjoy their work…and even have fun from time to time.

But the fun cannot be at the expense of someone else’s dignity and it cannot create a workplace where some feel uncomfortable.  Jokes that are sexual in nature run the risk of causing this kind of discomfort. Co-workers may be laughing on the outside but cringing on the inside.

Ask employees who are prone to want to “entertain others” to save their new material for open mic night or happy hour….Pretty much anywhere except the office.


2.  “No one said anything.”

Comments, slurs, stories, and jokes of a sexual nature, or those regarding gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity are not only inappropriate for work, they are rude. And a pattern of inappropriate offensive behaviors could also create a hostile work environment and result in legal consequences.

Employees need training that empowers them to say things like “I really don’t want to hear that.” Or, “I prefer you don’t make comments like that.”

And, employees who tend to make inappropriate comments need to know that silence is not consent. Just because no one reacts to their comment or behavior doesn’t make it acceptable.


3. “Everyone knew I/we were joking around.”

In an attempt to try to get along with others, some employees will pretend to be okay with bad behavior.  Their “Ha ha ha. That’s a good one!” statement may really mean “Ha ha ha. I can’t believe she just said that.”

Really the best policy is a policy where comments, gestures or jokes of a sexual nature are simply off limits in the workplace. Then, it’s up to everyone (managers and employees alike) to be accountable for adhering to the policy themselves and asking others to do the same.

Much like silence, behavior that seems to convey “acceptance” is also not a free pass for inappropriate behavior.

4. “It wasn’t directed towards anyone!”

Whether or not a joke or comment is directed toward someone does not determine whether it is right or wrong.  

To maintain a respectful workplace, you simply can’t open the door to disrespectful comments (general or otherwise) that have the potential to disparage or negatively impact the well-being of others.

While your employees may not have targeted anyone specifically in the room, or even in the office, there’s no justification for an inappropriate comment or behavior.


5. “I didn’t mean any harm.”

It’s not the intention that matters; it’s the impact on the other person.

In today’s workplace, cluelessness won’t cut it. If you’ve got employees offending people without meaning to, you need to help them get a clue about what is and is not appropriate for work. 

Train employees to think about what they say and do before they say or do it. Building a culture of respect begins with everyone doing their part.


6. “It was during a break.”

Again, in the workplace, inappropriate behavior is inappropriate… at any time during the day. There are simply no justifications for it.

Remind employees that, so long as their feet are on company property or they are conducting company business, they are responsible for conducting themselves in an ethical and respectful manner—whether at their desk, in a meeting, or at a trade show.

For more tips on how to address inappropriate behaviors at work, explore our top-selling respectful workplace programs: