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Be Aware or Beware–Razzing or Harassment

by Bob Marsenich

A good-natured razzing is very different from harassment.  A ribbing carries with it a bucket of fun, in the eyes of the beholder.  If you are giving the ribbing, you had better also learn to read nonverbal behaviors.  Communication experts tell us that 55% of the message comes from nonverbal behaviors (body language, eyes, shoulders, etc.), 38% from tone of voice and only 7% from the words we use.  So, if someone’s nonverbal behaviors are saying, ‘I don’t like this,’ and their words say, with hesitancy, ‘No, it’s OK,’ you had best close attention to the body cues.

Harassment is defined as unwelcomed behavior.  And, it doesn’t say the person has to put you on notice—although that is a good starting point.

A razzing typically makes its way around the circle.  Having 5 men ganging up on a women and teasing that leads to sexual comments is thin, thin ice.  Having 5 women gang up on the only man in the workgroup is thin ice.  Having one person tease an individual because of their religion, their marital status or other protected areas is harassment, no matter how “good-natured” it may appear.

You can use some standards to evaluate the potential for harassment.  Ask other people, “Do you think this is harassment?”  Ask yourself, “Would I speak to my priest, pastor, mother, grandmother, this way?”  If the answer is no, then you have skated onto thin ice.

Or, there is a kicker, ask supervisor or HR person, “Hey, the other day I said so and so to that person.  Do you think that is harassment?”

Everyone in the organization has a choice, They Need to Be Aware or Beware.  The person who will lose their job or be punished is you, not the person being harassed.


Place a Y next to those statements you believe are sexual harassment/discrimination, place an N next to those statements you believe are not sexual harassment, and place a ? next to those statements you believe may or may not be sexual harassment.

_____  1.  Telling jokes of a sexual nature.

_____  2.  A supervisor assigning highly technical work to men and clean up and                                                      remedial work to women.

_____  3.  A supervisor assigning men the hot dirty work and women easy jobs.

_____  4.  A woman walks up to a man and in a sexy voice calls him a “beast.”

_____  5.  Displaying pornographic material.

_____  6.  Persistent requests for a date.

If you placed a Y by all of these, you have the correct answers.


Discussion Topics

If you are a supervisor, trainer or HR professional, here are some examples for groups to discuss in order to better define harassment and policy expectations.

Telling jokes of a sexual nature.

Vulgar language.

Telling someone they look nice.

Touching someone to get their attention.

A single request for a date.

An uninvolved observer has a problem with your joke, story, behavior.



Here are some guidelines for determining inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

  • Behaviors that create an intimidating, hostile, and/or offensive work environment—in the eye of the beholder
  • Unreasonably interferes with work performance
  • Adversely affects employment opportunities
  • Unwelcomed
  • Severe or pervasive
  • Perceived as harassment by a Reasonable Person
  • Harassment of other special/protected categories


Defenses that Won’t Work

Here are some defenses that people have brought up to me through the years of presenting harassment and diversity training and consulting in organizations.  They just don’t hold water.

The person is just too sensitive.

I don’t believe in their beliefs.  That’s not my definition of God.

That person treats everyone that way—with an intimidating lack of respect.


Glacier HR Services, Inc. will be presenting a free seminar on Respect in the Workplace on July 11, 2016.  The seminar will run from 9 am – 11 am and will be held at Ruby’s Inn and Conference Center, 4825 N. Reserve Street, Missoula, MT  59828