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How to Compare Harassment to Professionalism in the Workplace

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Workplace harassment comes in many forms, but it is not always easy to spot. Harassment can be verbal, such as yelling, blaming and slandering, or physical, such as intentionally blocking a person from moving or continuously touching a person while speaking. However, dealing with co-worker grievances, unwelcome joking, discipline actions and being passed up for promotions are examples of unpleasant workplace situations that can still be handled professionally.


While terminating an employee is rarely pleasant, there are professional ways to undergo the process so that the employee does not feel demoralized or harassed. For example, a harassing termination includes belittling, sexual remarks or going into detail about incompetencies. A more professional stance includes briefly citing examples of poor performance; the ways the company tried to help; and wishing the employee well in future opportunities. If the termination was amicable or happened during a company lay-off, for example, it shows professionalism to offer a letter of recommendation.

Gender Issues

Asking a co-worker out on a date or giving what is considered a normal amount of co-worker compliments is not considered harassment. Employees can do both these things in a professional manner, as long as the behavior does not intimidate, threaten, or emotionally upset anyone. However, continuous glaring, inappropriate questions about race or sexual orientation, and unwelcome touching constitutes harassment.

Performance Review

Personal problems, lack of motivation, loss of job interest and poor job training are all reasons for an employee to under-perform. When this happens, managers must communicate dissatisfaction by giving examples and asking the employee questions in a calm, professional manner. A harassing performance review would include throwing an employee's work papers in the trash, yelling threats of termination and giving ultimatums without offering the resources for employee success. For example, demanding an employee learn a newly implemented software without giving him the tools or time to do so is considered harassment.


The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that employees are given equal physical access to the workplace and are not subject to discrimination based on certain limitations. This means that if an employee reveals he has a learning disability or a prospective employee comes to an interview in a wheel chair, he cannot be mistreated or eliminated from candidacy because of an employer's pre-conceived notions. It is professional to discuss performance options, such as allowing a tape recorder in meetings so that information can be re-heard; using visual aids for explaining assignments; and adding more check points to ensure proper grammar is used on assignments, for example.