What is offensive behaviour?

Understanding offensive behaviour, including bullying and sexual harassment. Bullying, sexual harassment and other types of harassment are referred to as offensive behaviour.

Example: The 'funny' photo of Andreas

Andreas, a shop assistant in a shop selling menswear, enters the staff room where two colleagues, Thomas and Jacob, are talking confidentially. They stop talking when Andreas enters, except that they make a ‘funny’ comment on a joke that someone played on Andreas with a photo of him.

Andreas doesn’t find it funny. He recalls all the other times his qualifications were questioned, and when he was left out.

Overview: Offensive behaviour, bullying and harassment 

Offensive behaviour at the workplace is defined as a situation in which one or more individuals at the workplace seriously or repeatedly subject one or more individuals at the workplace to bullying, sexual harassment or other degrading behaviour during work.

For the behaviour to be called offensive, it has to be experienced as degrading by the victim(s) of the behaviour.

Management, feedback from colleagues and similar are not per se offensive behaviour.

Offensive behaviour can also be hurtful remarks, slandering or excluding individuals from the social or professional community, withdrawing or limiting responsibilities or assignments without legitimate cause, etc.

Offensive behaviour can take place, for example:

  • Between otherwise equal individuals who subject each other to offensive behaviour.
  • In a generally offensive environment/culture in which there is no pattern in who is violating who and in who is the victim of the offensive behaviour.
  • When the same individual(s) subject different individuals to offensive behaviour in no clear pattern.

The individual’s experience is key

A common feature is that the individual’s experience of the offensive behaviour is the definitive element, but also that the behaviour is work-related and has a negative impact on the affected employee’s physical or psychological wellbeing and health.

When assessing whether a certain behaviour is offensive, emphasis should be on the nature of the behaviour, for example in terms of seriousness, and on the scope of the behaviour, including how long the behaviour has taken place, for example over a longer period.

What is bullying?

Offensive behaviour is only bullying when the people being exposed to the behaviour are unable to effectively defend themselves against it. Teasing perceived as good-natured by both parties is not considered to be bullying. This is also the case for isolated conflicts.

What is sexual herassment?

Sexual harassment is a particular form of bullying, in which the offensive behaviour is of a sexual nature. This could be unwanted touching, unwanted verbal invitations to sexual relations, display of pornographic material, etc.

Last revised at Tuesday, July 4, 2023