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Offensive comment from a co-worker? Here's what to do

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What do you do when a colleague makes a sexist remark to you? Do you have a witty retort that puts him in his place? Do you bite your tongue and feel awkward in his presence for the rest of the week?

While some people may tell you just to shrug it off, sexist remarks, jokes and advances are forms of sexual harassment and should not be tolerated. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is far too common in many workplaces. No matter your gender or sexual orientation, you should not have to put up with it.

Stay quiet or speak up?

There are many good reasons for speaking up right away or soon afterwards. Keeping silent can send the message that the comment or joke didn't bother you.

However, an immediate retort may not be the best way to deal with it either. According to experts, you may wish to consider a few issues before saying something:

  • The speaker's personality: If the person is immature or clueless, a private comment may provide that person a valuable lesson in appropriate behavior.
  • The speaker's behavior: If the speaker has an anger management problem -- real or suspected -- think about your personal safety before saying anything.
  • His or her position: If the speaker is your supervisor or another person of authority, speaking up can put your job in jeopardy.

If you do not feel it is safe to speak to the person yourself, tell someone who can advise you about what to do next. If your company does not have a sexual harassment policy, report the inappropriate actions to your human resources or personnel contact.

How you respond can go a long way to improve your situation. First, start with the assumption that your co-worker did not mean to offend you. Instead of making accusations, tell the person how the comment made you feel.

If you are the victim of sexual harassment at work, it shouldn't be up to you to fix the problem. Document and report what has happened, and learn about your legal options.

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