comments at work

Dealing with inappropriate comments at work

We all know that creating a positive and respectful workplace culture is essential for the success of your agency. Shockingly, 40% of women experience workplace sexual harassment according to the Fawcett Society. As a result of these escalating statistics, a new law comes into force this October to tackle workplace harassment. So how do you navigate when it comes to dealing with inappropriate comments at work?

What are inappropriate comments?

What’s considered as a casual comment by one employee could be seen as hurtful or offensive to another. Examples of inappropriate comments in the workplace include:

Commenting on an employee’s religious views, age, physical disability or race.
Telling offensive jokes or sharing indecent photos, emails or letters.
Improper touching or remarks that could be considered sexual harassment.

What are your legal obligations as an employer?

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure your workplace is free from discrimination and harassment. The new Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 is due to come into force in October 2024. It introduces a new legal duty for employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of employees in the course of their employment.  Failing to take these steps could have costly consequences for businesses, not to mention their reputation and culture.

Here are our tips:

Review and refresh your company’s harassment policies and reporting procedures to ensure that any complaints are taken seriously. However, having policies in place alone will not be enough and companies will need to be proactive to demonstrate these are reviewed and measured.
Lead by example: set the tone for your workplace by leading from the top. Show your team that inappropriate comments are not tolerated and will be addressed promptly.
Provide appropriate training: offer training sessions on diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias to educate the team about appropriate workplace behaviour.
Review the company culture to see if there are areas where inclusivity could be improved. Conduct audits of the effectiveness of company training, policies and reporting structures.
Encourage a culture of open communication: employees should feel comfortable to raise concerns about inappropriate comments. They should be encouraged to report any incidents immediately so that they can be addressed quickly.
Take immediate action to diffuse the situation, adhering to your policy guidance.
Get the full picture: if there is a conflict between two employees then it’s essential to gather both perspectives before making a final decision on the steps to take. If there were witnesses, ensure that they are talked to and their accounts are documented.

Handling escalating comments

If inappropriate comments at work persist, despite your efforts to address them informally, it’s essential to take further action. Here’s what you can do:

Formally document incidents: keep detailed records of inappropriate comments, including dates, times and any witnesses present.
Follow company procedures: it’s essential that your business has clear policies and procedures in place for addressing harassment and discrimination. Follow these rigorously when handling complaints and investigations.
Ensure that the person handling the issue is suitably prepared to deal with it. Have they been equipped with all of the facts and are they able to address it in a calm and neutral manner?
Consider disciplinary measures: if informal measures are inappropriate, take swift action and consider formal warnings with retraining for employees who continue to engage in this behaviour.
Communicate with everyone involved throughout the process to ensure they are kept up to date on action being taken.

Remember, as an employer, you have the power to shape your workplace culture and set the standard for appropriate behaviour. By taking a proactive approach to addressing inappropriate comments, you can create a workplace where everyone can thrive.

bespoke hr Alison king

Alison King is MD at Bespoke HR. Read about the latest employment law updates:

Women in Agencies is here to support both staff and employers, get in touch with us with your questions and we will put you together with an expert to help.

Beth Hellowell
Founder of Women in Agencies and co-founder of Signify Digital. Mother, social media scroller and frequent pasta eater.