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There is a colleague at my (American) workplace who is young and smart, but fairly inept at using his filter function while he's talking.

At a group meeting (his manager was present), he went on about a scene in a porn movie. I was the least senior and newest person in the room and didn't feel comfortable telling him that he was walking a dangerous road. Personally, I wasn't offended and there are no women on our team (and I suppose nobody else was offended either), but I can see how this behavior is harassment if someone felt uncomfortable.

Another time, he told me my shirt "popped". I said thanks and then he proceeded to do a stereotyped impression of an effeminate man talking about colors "popping". I am a gay man, out at work (he knows), but I again wasn't personally offended because I know he's an awkward guy who probably didn't even put the fact that I'm gay and that his impression makes fun of gay people together. He likes to make people laugh, his jokes just aren't that funny. I felt I had a duty to tell him that his behavior is cringe-inducing at best, and hostile at worst. But alas, the moment passed and I didn't say anything. He sees me as a friend and I don't really want to go behind his back to his manager since it would be obvious from the exchange about effeminate stereotypes that it was me.

Is it my obligation to inform him or his manager of this kind of behavior? Confrontation is difficult (for everyone, I assume) and I don't feel I owe him the time to explain what's wrong so the pros/cons of getting involved seem lopsided toward "ignore his behavior". I am a temporary contractor and he's a permanent employee so I don't feel like the culture is necessarily mine to improve.


Small addition: I'm not interested exclusively in my legal obligation, but also the moral obligation. "Should I, as a good person, do something?" rather than "Must I, as an employee of this company, do something?"

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    So he's Michael Scott? – Keith Jun 7 at 16:25
  • I'm just as interested in the moral obligation as the the legal one, which I don't think I made very clear, but which isn't company-specific. I will edit to that effect. – speedfranklin Jun 7 at 17:25
  • You might be interested in workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/27299/… where jokes that were ok at first became not ok later, and led to a "it was all fun till we got a woman on the team" situation - a few polite words now might prevent that sort of situation in the future – Kate Gregory Jun 8 at 12:48
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Is it my obligation to inform him or his manager of this kind of behavior?

No.

You stated in your question that the manager has already witnessed this behavior. Leave it to the manager to deal with.

If his language or comments really offends you at some point, I would suggest telling your colleague yourself first. If that doesn't work then discuss with your manager. Most likely this person is just clowning around trying to fit in with the team.

At the end of the day, you do not want to be labelled as the team nark. And as a final note, this situation does not warrant HR involvement.


UPDATE based on update to the question

"Should I, as a good person, do something?"

Based on what I can gather from your post, this employee will shoot themselves in the foot at some point. Whether their silliness is witnessed by their own manager one more time, or another manager for perhaps the first time, etc.

So in this case, I still say no need for you to act.

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    While it may not be this person's obligation to report it, and, until it reaches a certain point, it might be more of a headache that it's worth to OP, it sounds like this guy is a walking invitation for "hostile workplace" or harassment complaints or lawsuits against the employer. Calling out thoroughly unprofessional workplace behavior, whether the guy is just trying to act cool or not, is entirely professional behavior. To characterize it as being "the team nark" makes it sound like a junior high school clique, and not a professional workplace. – PoloHoleSet Jun 7 at 17:46
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    So the solution to childish, unprofessional attitudes is to accommodate them, instead of expecting professional workforce behavior? I daresay, company management and those in charge of risk management will disagree. As would most of the actual professional-behaving workers. – PoloHoleSet Jun 7 at 17:56
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You don't feel harassed by him, so there's no need to go to management about it. There's no need to stay silent if "the moment passes", you can simply mention it to him in a friendly manner:

Hey, do you remember when you say X the other day? I don't have a problem with it, but you ought to be more careful about saying things like that these days because in a lot of places they're cracking down on that sort of stuff pretty hard, and sooner or later somebody might come along who will make a complaint about it.

There can be social repercussions to lodging complaints about colleagues - not necessarily because they disagree about it, but as a defense mechanism to prevent them from slipping up around you due to a perception that you're the type who takes offense at things.

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    Bringing it up to him under the guise of having his best interests in mind because "a lot of places crack down on it these days" is a thinly veiled lie at best. If OP brings it up to him he should be honest about his reasons why. – scatter Jun 7 at 17:45
  • It's possible that saying "Hey, don't be that guy!" might be a simple solution. (USA slang.) – O. Jones Jun 8 at 11:53
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You say you are not offended but it has bothered you enough to post this question here. So I think you should take some action on it. It is in fact good that you are not offended by it because now you can think calmly and clearly and take the right action so that he does not offend anyone else.

You can just pretend for a minute that you ARE offended by it and do what you should do in that situation. Either you can say something what @user1666620 suggested in his answer or something more direct like

Hey, Sorry to discuss this with you but I feel your jokes are bit offensive. Also, I am not comfortable discussing or listening to porn movie stories in conference room. I hope you understand.

Irrespective of Whether it will make him change his behaviour or not or whether the culture around changes or not, you have at least done something about it.

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    I think some people genuinely believe that rude, crude "jokes" and stories are funny, and if anyone is offended enough to complain it means that person excessively sensitive. The more times people around them comment casually on the offensiveness, the harder it is to maintain that view. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 8 at 18:52
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You made an edit that clarified that your true question is about the potential for there to be an obligation to report harassment:

Small addition: I'm not interested exclusively in my legal obligation, but also the moral obligation. "Should I, as a good person, do something?" rather than "Must I, as an employee of this company, do something?"

Moral obligation is hard to answer, since morals are essentially based on an individual's personal frame of reference. If you haven't been offended, there's no obligation to say anything.

Legal obligation is a little more clear, since it's defined within a specific legal context. You mentioned that you're in America. To broadly summarize US law on harassment, sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as verbal or physical abuse that is frequent or severe enough that it makes the target consider their workplace a hostile environment, or unfair employment decisions (i.e. missing a promotion) that result from or are related to such abuse.

You haven't mentioned any employment decisions being made as a result of this person's actions. You also haven't mentioned any coworkers indicating that they feel the work environment is hostile. So, at face value, from a legal perspective, there is nothing to report and there cannot be an obligation.

In some environments, there may also be a regulatory or policy obligation to report harassment. For instance, in some employment environments dealing with children or others who are inherently in a weak position, employees may be obligated by government regulation or by company policy to report any harassment they witness, regardless of whether or not they were personally the victim. It doesn't sound like this is the case for you because you haven't mentioned these factors, but it's worth mentioning in order to form a complete answer in terms of potential obligations.

All that said, it does sound like your friend is walking a fine line and if your relationship is strong enough to support this, it may make sense to mention directly to him that he's risking getting in trouble based on his comments.

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You don't have to report his behaviour towards you, whether you personally see it as harassment or not. Nobody can force you.

If you witness possibly harassing behaviour towards others, and HR asked you about it, you would have to say exactly what you witnessed. It would also be a good idea to tell the possible victim that you are a witness, which makes it easier for them to report what happened if they want to.

It would also be a good idea to tell someone that their behaviour can be taken as harassment even if you personally don't see it that way, or you ignore it.

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