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Q: A male colleague occasionally makes inappropriate remarks about another colleague’s sexuality. They aren’t blatant enough to be really offensive but make me feel uncomfortable. The colleague who is the target of the jokes is openly gay and quite confident, so maybe he can stand up for himself. But I don’t like to feel I am condoning the comments by not speaking up. What should I do?

A: Try and raise this with your colleague informally, who may be completely unaware he is making hurtful remarks. Harassment is defined as any unwanted conduct violating dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Offensive verbal comments are an example of harassment and are unacceptable behaviour. There are laws to protect individuals who have suffered discrimination, victimisation or harassment in the workplace because of their sexual orientation.

In discussions with your colleague, you should warn him to stop as he could face disciplinary action. Your employer may well have an equal opportunities or dignity at work policy, which identifies harassment and is likely to specify that it will result in disciplinary action.

If informal discussion with your colleague is inappropriate, or indeed, such conversations do not stop the offensive behaviour, you should go to your line manager or human resources department. Your employer is ultimately responsible for the actions of employees making potentially offensive remarks. Most will want to avoid any sexual orientation harassment complaints or employment tribunal claims.

Makbool Javaid is a solicitor at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary

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