How to say "that's not cool" to your boss | PerformHR
How to say that’s not cool to my boss?

When it’s physical; sexual harassment is very clear. In Australia, it is very clear that unwanted touching or physical contact and rape or assault are against the law.  Over time we have also been educated that requests for sexual favours and pressure for sex and threats based on the rejection of sexual advances also constitute sexual harassment and is prohibited in the workplace.

In fact, the top five reported acts of sexual harassment are:

Sexually suggestive comments or jokes,

  • Inappropriate physical contact,
  • Inappropriate staring or leering,
  • Intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance and
  • Unwelcome hugging, cornering or kissing

Perhaps rethinking some of those ‘funny’ (or now not so funny) jokes from the other Friday after work beers?

But when your boss or senior employees are part of the culture that crossed the line how do you pull them up on it? How do you say ‘Hey, that’s not cool…’

It is easy to blur the line in a workplace where things are fun and casual and banter is part of the way you connect. Lewd comments about someone’s appearance, conversations, questions, and stories about sex are also no-go zones and must be stamped out of your culture if you want to provide a psychologically safe workplace for your people. Vulgar language, jokes about sex (or gender), innuendo, and music with sexually explicit lyrics are also considered sexual harassment. We are all part of the solution to ridding our workplace of these behaviours. We must no longer awkwardly giggle at those jokes we internally cringe at.  We all must speak up – even if its your boss.

Having a conversation with a person of authority on how their behaviour is or could be considered inappropriate is always going to be a tough one. So, how do you get started?

Like dealing with anything that could be complicated; we plan.

Planning to have this conversation can be helpful and ease your anxieties or tummy butterflies. Additionally, it can help you articulate exactly what you want to say so that you don’t miss any key points.

Sometimes, it’s hard to address the behaviour in the moment. And if you don’t feel safe to do so, there is still a way of following up with the person who demonstrated the “Not Cool” behaviour.  Consider planning out the following conversation to help you:

Set aside the time and consider how you will raise the subject:

“Hey Cheryl, can I please catch up with you for a chat when you’re free? I want to talk about something that is bothering me.”

Be open and upfront about how having this conversation is making you feel:

“This is difficult for me to have this conversation. However, this is important because I care about our workplace and this company.”


“I experienced/ witnessed/ was part of a conversation that was inappropriate and I want to make it clear that is unwelcome and is damaging to our workplace culture.”  OR

“That kind of conversation is inappropriate in the workplace. It makes me uncomfortable. It makes all the other women uncomfortable. Please stop doing it.” OR

“Please don’t communicate in that way. It’s offensive to me. Please stop talking to me/ sending me messages that way.” OR

“Please don’t give me any more compliments about my appearance. It makes me uncomfortable” OR

“When you said/did/laughed at/ engaged in (the act) it made me feel very uncomfortable.”

Ask for permission to call out this behaviour in the moment:

“I know this is a part of a cultural change in our workplace, how do you want me to raise these issues going forward? Are you ok with me raising issues like this in the moment? What language do you want me to use to make sure we don’t breach any harassment laws and our team feels safe.”

This is just the start of the conversation. Remember, you can always speak confidentially to a 3rd party if you’re not comfortable having this conversation directly. If you don’t have an HR team or someone else you can trust at work, there are a number of government agencies that can help. If you’re not sure where to go, give us a call and we can point you in the direction.

PerformHR also provides workshops for leaders and teams on Respect@Work delivered by skilled trainers. Our training is relevant and includes up-to-date Respect@Work content that is created and customised for your unique environment and team dynamics.


“Is your organisation meeting its Respect@Work obligations? ”

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