Friendly or flirting? Here’s how to tell

A flirting co-worker can make you feel uncomfortable. Worse, such behavior can be considered sexual harassment. Here’s the difference.

Friendly is natural—and widespread. If a co-worker chats or jokes with and compliments everyone, the person is likely just friendly.

Flirty is more focused on you. If a co-worker is more serious or reserved with other co-workers, and rarely jokes around or compliments them, but is always that way with you, it could be flirting.

Sexual harassment. If the flirter’s actions are one-way, persistent—despite your requests for the person to stop—and make you uneasy, it’s sexual harassment.

So what should you do? Regardless of the situation, if a person’s behavior makes you feel uncomfortable, address it. Set some boundaries by directly asking the person to put an end to specific behaviors.

Politely, but firmly say: “It makes me feel __________ when you say/do __________. I’m sure you don’t mean to, but please stop.” It might cause some tension, but that will eventually go away as the two of you interact on a professional level.

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However, if the advances don’t stop, you need to discuss the matter with HR because further action is necessary.

— Adapted from “Understanding Fine Line Between Flirting, Friendliness in the Office,” Jessie Roti, Chicago Tribune, www.chicagotribune.com.