When compliments at work become sexual harassment

On Behalf of | Nov 9, 2023 | Employment Law

Making inappropriate comments about a co-worker’s appearance is a form of harassment, regardless of whether the harasser meant their remarks as a compliment.

Generally, there is nothing wrong with complimenting a colleague in the workplace. However, certain circumstances can make the act a form of sexual harassment.

The inappropriateness of the comment

It isn’t unusual to make small talk in the workplace, especially during break time. Discussions among employees sometimes include appearances, such as someone’s beauty and personal style. Accordingly, it is acceptable to compliment a co-worker on how their makeup suits them or how their new blazer looks pretty on them.

However, comments on how a colleague’s dress is short and sexy or how their makeup is suggestive are inappropriate and they qualify as sexual harassment when they are habitual and create a hostile environment for the employee.

The authority of the commenter

While anyone at work can be guilty of sexual harassment in the form of inappropriate compliments, when managers, supervisors or any person holding authority over employees make these comments, it can trigger fears of demotion and termination among victims. Consequently, many harassed employees hesitate to report the misconduct, further tolerating harassment in the workplace.

Achieving a harassment-free working environment

Employers looking to prevent harassment in the workplace and avoid legal repercussions for their company have to formulate ways to achieve their goals. Working with a competent legal team can help develop effective strategies.

Appropriately, employees who are victims of workplace sexual harassment or are witnesses of such behavior play a significant role in keeping their working environment harassment-free. With the aid of a legal advocate, they can explore multiple remedies, internal and legal, to ensure a safe workplace.