I'm posting this anonymously as I know my colleagues also use these websites also (software house).

I work in an all male office, and have done for around a year. I have recently secured a new job and am currently working my notice period.

My fellow employees (one of whom owns the company) will daily partake in what they perceive to be 'banter' or messing around. This goes on for most of the day, and is a mixture of racist/sexist/homophobic humour. I don't enjoy that sort of humour myself, and don't join in. The attitude seems to be this idea that nobody has the right to not be offended, and so nothing is off limits, but I have a thick enough skin to basically ignore it and get on with my work.

The problem is that we have a placement student. He is 21 (only 3 years younger than myself), but could be mistaken for 14/15 as a result of a combination of his appearance/mannerisms/maturity level etc, and is a nice enough guy. The real issue is that he is starting to join in with the 'messing around' and the racist/sexist/homophobic humour in what I suspect is an effort to fit in.

It is awkward to watch as it doesn't seem to match his personality, and it is very much like watching somebody vulnerable be lead astray.

I feel that I should do something before I leave. I could talk to HR (this company outsources their HR work to an external company). I could talk to the university and say I don't think this is a suitable placement. Or I could leave it, say it's none of my business as people need to find their own way in life and go and enjoy my new job.

So when you feel that a younger, more impressionable employee is being lead astray in this way, is it appropriate to intervene in some way or is getting personally involved considered unprofessional?

  • 5
    why not leave and mind your own business? certainly don't go to this guy's university and tell them he doesn't fit. Mind your own business. That's the #1 rule in life.
    – squeemish
    Jul 18, 2013 at 18:13
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    You could argue this person is learning how to fit in. The concern would be will he slip-up and say things that are not appropriate in many other settings and future jobs?
    – user8365
    Jul 19, 2013 at 13:59
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    @enderland the problem is the OP claims someone is led astray. That's imposing his own view and behavior on others. Who is he to say what behavior is acceptable and what is not. there's a culture, he doesn't like it, and now he thinks he needs to "save" someone, who did not ask to be saved. I completely disagree with OPs attitude and the advice that it's his place to but his nose in.
    – squeemish
    Jul 21, 2013 at 13:53
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    @squeemish "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
    – enderland
    Jul 21, 2013 at 15:42
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    But who says who is good and bad? You can't impose your values or sense of humor or whatever on others because you think it's "right." It's entitlement, and it's ridiculous. OP doesn't like something, so OP avoids it. He has absolutely no place to tell others how to act (especially when it is everyone else he works with) or, more importantly, step in and affect someone's life/relationships. OP needs to get over himself and realize others may enjoy things he does not. Slippery slope with your quote.
    – squeemish
    Jul 22, 2013 at 11:56

3 Answers 3


If you don't feel comfortable bringing it up directly, don't look for a roundabout route just to save someone from their own actions. Unless he asked you to take a role, it's overstepping your bounds.

What I would recommend is talking to this guy after you've given notice. Take him aside and tell the truth:

  • You think he's a decent guy with a lot of potential
  • You think this joking around is offensive, unprofessional, and has no place the workplace
  • You dislike seeing a generally decent guy starting to behave like the other jerks

Point out that it's not the norm in every office, so developing this as a standard office pattern is likely to do his long-term career more harm than good.

Then let him make his own choice - he's old enough to work in the professional world, give him the professional courtesy of letting him make his own choices. But give him the strength to realize that other people don't like the behavior that is the status quo in this office.

Waiting until you've given notice is a better stance, politically - then you really don't have to worry much about a political backlash.


Executive Summary

You have already decided to leave. If you bring up this issue on behalf of this employee, he will have to live with the consequences. He may not appreciate that very much.

Company Culture

All companies have a culture. Some companies are filled with young go-getters who work silly stupid hours and make a game out of who can work themselves the hardest. That may not suit everyone, but it may make for a very productive (and successful) company culture. Some companies are filled with drinkers. Or philanderers. And those may not be right for everyone, but they may make a good company culture for those who fit in.

Companies are a lot like partners in a relationship -- you have a much better chance of finding a better fit than molding the other person in to what you're looking for. I would be very careful about suggesting any change to company culture, especially if it is ingrained and not causing undue problems in the office (especially if it isn't directly causing a problem for you).


Why now? You have been working there for a significant amount of time, and while you haven't participated, you haven't spoken up or brought it up with HR yet. So why are you so keen on doing it now?

Be very careful that you aren't bringing this up because you feel you have nothing to lose, akin to a Hail Mary Pass. If it is important enough to do, it was important enough to do when there were consequences.


Let's say you do bring it up. Consider the potential outcomes. Here are two in particular that I think merit consideration.

You tell the HR company about this banter. The HR company is torn. On one hand they have been told by an employee that they feel uncomfortable with some of the back-and-forth in the office. On the other hand they may only have your word for it, and you will be leaving to the point where they would be fighting the battle on their own if they did bring it up with the company owner. Essentially, you pass the buck to do something to the HR company.

And another:

You bring up the issue with the management of the company on behalf of this young employee. You say that they are making him feel uncomfortable, and that he shouldn't be forced to participate in that sort of banter in order to be included in the company culture. You have just painted the employee as someone who cannot speak up for himself and who doesn't fit in to the company culture to the people in the position most able to ostracize him entirely.

To return to the timing aspect, if you were confident you could change this behavior, you could have brought it up earlier. Bringing it up will likely cause problems for other people without any choice about it on their behalf.


If the above isn't clear enough, I would be extremely cautious about bringing this up to HR or the management on behalf of another employee. The employee can speak up for himself if he feels uncomfortable, and it is only a problem for HR if an active employee (one with skin in the game) brings it up.

Given the fact that you say you have 'thick skin' and aren't bothered by this, I don't think this is a serious issue to you, but if you think it is then you should address it directly to the owner.

Hey owner, as you know I'm leaving soon. While it's not the reason I'm leaving, you may have noticed that I didn't match the company culture quite as well as some of the other employees. I can only speak for myself, but even joking banter like X, Y, or Z that can be construed as sexist, racist, or homophobic can rub people the wrong way. I have a thick skin and just ignored it, but I just wanted you to know that even if I didn't speak out, I did notice, and as the company grows it may be harder to find people who are okay with that sort of discussion in the office.

The point is that you aren't condemning it, you are only speaking for yourself, and you're explaining why he may want to care about it (if he is growing the office). Don't get in a debate about it, or argue about it (since you say it doesn't bother you), just let him know so that he can do something about it if he chooses.

If your main concern is the coworker, then I would have a discussion with him directly:

Hey coworker, I've seen you chatting with A, B, and C over coffee. Maybe it's just me, but you look a bit uncomfortable when people start talking about X, Y, or Z. I'm uncomfortable with those things too, and I worked here for n years without participating in it. Don't feel forced to mold yourself to these people if you don't feel comfortable. If I can do anything to help, just let me know.

The point is that you are letting him know that others feel the same way, and that he doesn't need to join in. At the same time, you are letting him make the decision on how to proceed, and giving him an opening to ask for help if he wants it.

At any rate, bringing up the issue right before you leave has the potential to hurt your connections with this company if you ever want to come back, and potentially if you want a recommendation from them in their future. Criticizing a company as one of your last acts before going out the door often leaves a lasting impression far stronger than what you produced in the years you worked there. Proceed with caution on that front. Even if you just tell the coworker, he may use that as an opportunity to try to endear himself to your coworkers by throwing you under the bus.

At any rate, how you proceed is up to you. Just consider your motivation, what the potential consequences are, and whether it's the right decision to make in the long term.

  • One thing I woudl do if I talked to the young employee is let him know that this type of behavior is unacceptable at most other workplaces and that he shouldn't get in bad habits. He could get used to this sort of thing and not be sophiticated enough to look at corporate culture before doing the same thing at his next job. I know I was years into my career before I really thought seriously about corporate culture and how workplaces might differ in what was acceptable.
    – HLGEM
    Jul 18, 2013 at 17:16
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    I would be careful about doing that as well. People with a foot out the door are often perceived as being less trustworthy than others. "You're just saying that because you want to badmouth the company you're quitting" and the like. Also, young people are often prone to ignoring even sound advice that doesn't mesh with what everyone else is saying. This isn't to say don't do it, but I would suggest caution if he decides to say something.
    – jmac
    Jul 18, 2013 at 23:03

First off, if you work in the United States, you are protected by the laws against workplace sexual harassment. You don't have to be targeted by the harassment. You don't have to feel discriminated against. All you have to feel is uncomfortable, which you obviously do if this behavior is leading you to look for other employment. The banter creates a "hostile work environment", in violation of U.S. labor law. You don't even have to mention the new co-worker trying to fit in; this behavior has affected you personally.

This sounds like an extremely small company, if the owner of the company regularly mingles with the people he pays on a personal level. So, I'm going to assume there isn't an HR department to take your concerns to. You do still have a boss, even if that guy is the owner of the company that's joining in. Make your position clear; the humor is uncomfortable and (if you want to mention you're leaving because of it) that it has influenced your decision to seek other work. Your boss is required by law to do something about it once you have reported it.

If your boss doesn't act, he and his company are liable for any damages caused by this behavior (to you or others; this includes the cost of finding a new job, compensation for any pay cut you may have taken to get the hell out, lost wages between the end of your current job and the start of your new one, increased travel costs for a longer commute, etc). Take your case to the EEOC; put the company on record as having a history of discriminatory behavior. You may not stay with the company (and thus be suffering damages) long enough for the case to be settled, but you start a paper trail that will stay with the company as long as it exists; if this behavior is repeated and another report is filed, the EEOC will see very quickly that these aren't isolated incidents and will put the company under a microscope.

  • I don't think anyone was discriminated against here. That wasn't really the question. Using a sledgehammer when a fine chisel could do the job would be overkill. Bringing the law into something like this can actually amplify the hostility and create an untrustworthy environment filled with backstabbers. Sometimes all it takes is, "hey guys, can you tone it down a bit?". And then if that doesn't work, use a progressively bigger hammer.
    – jmort253
    Jul 27, 2013 at 18:47

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