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The line between friendly behavior and harassment

On Behalf of | Jun 25, 2024 | Firm News

It is essential for every workplace to have employees who work well together and for leadership to foster an inclusive, welcoming environment for all. A positive environment makes everyone feel respected and valued, and giving compliments can be a part of that.

However, there is a difference between giving a compliment and crossing the line into sexual harassment. When so many people are coming forward alleging harassment in the workplace, it is critical to know what is and what is not harassment.


Compliments are positive remarks or praise about someone’s work or character. It is essential to leadership because praising employees ensures they know when they are doing a good job. It results in higher workplace happiness and enjoyment.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior, including inappropriate words or actions that have a sexual connotation. This can include comments about someone’s body or appearance and even inappropriate jokes or stories.

This can also include unwanted physical touching and an employee sending sexually explicit content to another employee.

Sexual harassment is unprofessional and illegal. It creates a hostile work environment where the person subjected to this behavior feels uncomfortable and like they cannot do their job normally and feel comfortable doing it.

Complimenting appropriately

To compliment appropriately and stay on the professional and legal side, you can follow these tips:

  • Compliment coworkers on work-related accomplishments
  • Ensure the words and tone you use are professional and appropriate for the workplace
  • Think about the relationship you have with this specific individual.
  • Avoid making personal remarks about a person’s appearance, particularly remarks that could be interpreted as sexual innuendo.

Drawing the line

Sometimes, it is difficult to draw the line between being friendly and harassment. As a general rule, it is best to draw the line at:

  • Professional comments vs. personal ones.
  • Verifying that the contact is welcome.
  • Avoiding any physical touch.
  • Avoiding sexual comments, jokes or sexual materials.

If you do not know whether a specific behavior is appropriate, remember that it is best to err on the side of acting professionally at all times. In addition, you can:

  • Ask your supervisor or manager for feedback on the specific issue you are concerned about.
  • Look at other employees around you. Observe what they are saying and how they behave.
  • Stick to complimenting your colleagues on professional vs. personal accomplishments or traits.

Suppose a colleague makes inappropriate comments about your body or using sexual innuendo, make sure you:

  • Report the behavior to the appropriate parties within the organization you work for.
  • Speak with the human resources department of the company you work for to determine the next steps.
  • Ensure the organization you work for has a non-retaliation policy.
  • As a last resort, if no action is taken and the behavior continues, seek qualified legal help.

Sometimes, the line between being friendly and harassing or feeling harassed is unclear. For this reason, sticking to professional behavior in your words and actions can go a long way in preventing sexual harassment and ensuring that you identify it quickly if that happens.