“Oh Wow, You Look So Pretty I Can’t Even Concentrate” was the title of a post we wrote on August 9th, subtitled:  “Sexual Banter Or Sexual Harassment?”

See: https://employmentdiscrimination.foxrothschild.com/2014/08/articles/sexual-harassment-1/oh-wow-you-look-so-petty-i-cant-even-concentrate-mere-banter-or-sexual-harassment/

sexual harassment : office sexual harassment Stock Photo

We decided to survey the attitudes towards “sexual banter” and sexual harassment” in different countries, and began with this article from South Africa.  We received a record number of comments, and wrote further.

We noted that “We just read an article which began ‘Unwelcome groping, or a promise of a better job in return for a kiss, clearly amount to sexual harassment.  But what about comments like ‘Oh wow, you look so pretty, I can’t even concentrate,” or ‘You look sexy today?’”

We asked:  “Is this sexual harassment?  Harmless banter?  The answer is important to HR people, employers and employees.”

The article was from South Africa’s Times Live and, as we reported, echoed a few posts which we did about “sexual banter” some time ago.  We began with a quote from Howard Levitt of the Financial Post, who said that “The line between sexual banter and harassment can sometimes be indistinct, even blurred. But crossing it is costly.”

We then asked “How about when the comment does not rise to even mere banter but is only a casual remark or even simply a workplace compliment?   Are these comments safe or taboo?”

water cooler gossip : Business employees gathered to get a drink of water and gossip. Isolated on white.

We also quoted Leanne Italie, writing for the Associated Press and published in Rocky Mount Telegram, who also asked “Are workplace compliments focused on looks or other personal details like dress ever OK?   Is the alternative a more sterile professional life?   When do such remarks rise to actionable harassment, or become worthy of a friendly rebuff or a trip to human resources?”   She cited to experts who suggest that “tone, context and a pattern of behavior are everything when it comes to unwanted remarks.”

A View From Wales

And on August 31st, we wrote about “A Brouhaha In Wales Over Workplace `Banter,`” regarding an article in WalesOnline which reported on a local story and asked a local Cardiff attorney “when [does] banter go[] too far and become[] discrimination?”

Cardiff attorney Darwin Gray discussed this issue, and advised that “There is no hard and fast rule, and it’s a very fine line between ‘banter’ and discriminatory/potentially unlawful comments. However, generally, if the comments are likely to offend someone, especially where they are linked to a ‘protected characteristic’ (defined in the Equality Act 2010 as things like race, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender reassignment) then they have probably crossed the line.   So basically, the advice is to pause and think about how comments could be perceived by others, especially when putting comments in writing (e.g., emails, texts).

Remember that emails, for example, are permanent and can always be recovered.  It’s important that an employer doesn’t just ignore things as said employer does not want to be seen to be tolerating / encouraging such comments.”

A New Post From New Zealand

A blog post by the New Zealand law firm of Duncan Cotterill is the latest to have caught our eye concerning “the issue of inappropriate conduct in the workplace, and how some behaviour, even unintentionally, can be offensive and unwelcome to others at work.”


“[How can you] tell the difference between harmless joking and banter and unlawful harassment and bullying, asks the author, who then answers “The former is often welcome and can help boost collegiality and culture. The latter can have a devastating effect on the workplace, create significant legal risks for an organisation, not to mention result in significant loss of productivity, plummeting staff morale and high turnover.”

Their takeaway (at least as we read it):  “Chief executives and managers set the tone and the culture and lead from the top in terms of appropriate conduct. If in doubt as to whether particular conduct is appropriate, it is generally best to err on the side of caution. … The important thing to remember is that it is not the intent of the person making the comments or jokes that matters. It is how they are received and perceived by others. That makes harassment very much a subjective issue and can sometimes make it difficult for individuals to understand where the line between appropriate and inappropriate conduct lies.”

One Takeaway

As Welsh attorney Gray said:  “It is advisable for an employer to have an internal policy on equal opportunities and diversity – setting out what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct. That policy should be communicated clearly to all staff so that they are clear of the conduct/behaviour expected of them.”

As we wrote before, “This issue, and all of its many facets, is of great significance if progress is to be made in understanding and curbing workplace harassment.”