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How to Identify Inappropriate Behavior in the Workplace

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Inappropriate behavior in the workplace can interfere with work flow and may even keep you from carrying out your responsibilities. Left unchecked, this type of behavior often continues to escalate, and can lead to low morale, absenteeism, a slowdown in productivity or, at its worst, even a lawsuit. Although it is sometimes hard to determine whether a coworker's behavior is simply annoying or actually inappropriate, there are some indicators that can help you decide.

The Big Bully

While a bully may display overt signs that he is a bully, such as yelling at you or making critical remarks when you are with your colleagues, other signs of this inappropriate behavior are sometimes harder to recognize. As an example, if you are constantly reminded of mistakes you have made in the past or are accused in front of people for mistakes you didn't actually make, then you are likely the victim of a bully. Feeling isolated by not being invited to lunches or finding yourself excluded from meetings are also signs that you are dealing with a bully.

Getting Touchy Feely

Although most employees understand that certain physical gestures are seen as sexual harassment, there are other types of touching that are often inappropriate behavior as well, such as when a coworker gives you a shoulder rub while you sit at your desk or your boss makes a habit of poking you with her finger whenever she's argumentative and wants to make a point. Because everyone has their own ideas of personal space, even a hug or a handshake that goes on too long might seem inappropriate for those who have personal boundary issues.

Rude, Lewd and Off-Color Jokes

Almost everyone loves a good joke, but Deborah King, an attorney in California and a corporate and cultural ethics expert, tells that inappropriate jokes in the office often have a much darker purpose, and are used as a form of teasing or a put down. In some cases, they are even a form of harassment. She further states that anything that involves what is known as the “big five” -- which include jokes about sexual orientation, gender, religion, age or ethnicity -- should be thought of as completely inappropriate for the workplace.

What to Do if It's Happening to You

The first step to take if you feel a coworker's behavior is inappropriate is to ask the person to stop the behavior. Keep notes and record where and when the behavior occurred, as well as anyone that was present at the time. Discuss the situation with a supervisor or someone in human resources, and take a look at the employee handbook's stance on this issue.

If the situation persists, you may have legal recourse if it results in what is known as a hostile work environment. For a hostile work environment to exist, however, the behavior must remain constant and create an unbearable work environment that a reasonable person would consider as hostile, offensive or intimidating. If the conditions for a hostile work environment do not exist, however, you may find that your only recourse is to report the situation to someone higher up in management or give notice and leave your job.


Based in Atlanta, Casey Kennedy has been writing online content since 2009. She specializes in writing about small business, careers, real estate, and ecommerce. She also enjoys writing about a variety of other subjects, including home improvement, gardening, and pet care. She attended the Academy of Art online, studying interior architecture and design while pursuing commercial flight training at Aviation Atlanta in Georgia.

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