Inappropriate comments at work create an unsafe and hostile environment. There should be no room for discriminatory behavior by employees to each other, customers, partners or anyone else. If you notice an employee making inappropriate comments or if you are told about it by another employee, it’s important to take action right away so that it does not happen again. All employees should feel that they have a safe, welcoming place to work.
Understand the Situation
Before you confront an employee about inappropriate comments in the workplace, make sure you fully understand the situation and context. Gather the facts from all the parties involved so you have a clear picture of what was said. Once you have the details, it’s critical to sit down with the employee who made the inappropriate comments.
Ask him if he understands why his inappropriate comment was a problem. If he is unaware of why his comment was unwelcome in the workplace, take steps to educate him on discriminatory behavior and the importance of inclusivity in the workplace. Make sure you’re clear on how his comment affects others.
For example, you could say, “What you said yesterday to Susan was completely inappropriate. It was racist and made her and everyone else feel unsafe and uncomfortable. This kind of behavior is not welcome at this company. Do not say something like this again.”
Provide Clear Feedback and Repercussions
It’s best practice to record the inappropriate incident in the employee’s file to keep a record of what happened and what feedback the employee received. Tell the employee directly that her comments were hurtful and what she needs to do to rectify the situation. For example, you can say something like, “Michael was very hurt by your words. You will need to apologize for your inappropriate comments to him today.”
Finally, tell the employee who made the inappropriate comments at work what kind of repercussions there are if this behavior happens again. Don’t sugar coat the penalty. Remember, it’s important that all employees feel they are welcome at work, and one employee making inappropriate comments can make everyone feel uncomfortable.
For example, you could say, “If I hear that you have made inappropriate comments again to Michael or to anyone else in the company, you will be dismissed. Is that clear?” Make sure that the employee takes your feedback seriously and understands the situation.
Always Be Consistent
Addressing inappropriate comments in the workplace requires consistency. Letting even one inappropriate comment slide can be seen as though you tolerate this kind of behavior in the company. Whether the inappropriate comment was made as a joke or in earnest, be clear that this kind of behavior is not allowed in the workplace at any time.
Treat all inappropriate comments the same way. Have a conversation with the employee, explain the consequences and don’t be afraid to carry them out if you need to. This shows employees what kind of values you hold at the business. It helps to establish a culture of inclusivity and builds loyalty among employees.
Set Expectations About Inappropriate Comments at Work
Ensure your company policy dictates that inappropriate comments of any kind are not welcome in the workplace. Comments that are racist, sexist, bigoted, xenophobic and discriminatory in other ways not only make others feel unsafe and uncomfortable, but they also create tension and unease in the workplace.
Use company policy to make it clear that comments that are not appropriate will not be tolerated. Be sure that employees know how to act respectfully with one another and with external stakeholders. Once employees have read and understood your policy toward inappropriate behavior, have them sign a form that states they will behave accordingly at work. Most importantly, model acceptable behavior yourself in the workplace.
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.