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Repremanding an employee in front of coworkers is a form of bullying.
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updated 4/20/2012 1:15:24 PM ET 2012-04-20T17:15:24

In these days of open plan offices, casual dress and blurring boundaries between home and work, it can be confusing to figure out whether your boss is behaving inappropriately. But if your boss’s comments or actions make you feel consistently uncomfortable, then there’s a good chance that she or he is stepping over the line of professionalism into inappropriate behavior.

If that’s the case, you should initiate a conversation with your boss, recommends Jeff Shane, executive vice president of Allison & Taylor, a reference and background checking firm in Rochester, Mich. Be respectful, open, honest, non-threatening and professional. Also be clear that you want the behavior to stop. If your boss won’t listen, consider making an appeal to human resources.

But before you initiate a conversation, Shane suggests considering the following six scenarios that he and his colleagues at Allison & Taylor believe constitute a line between professionalism and unacceptable behavior. If your boss has done one or more of these things with regularity, then it’s time to speak up.

Forbes.com: 6 lines your boss should never cross

1. Your boss makes references to your salary in front of other staff
The Allison & Taylor consultants say this is private and confidential information, and other employees don’t need to know what you’re being paid. Whether the boss is saying, “I don’t pay you enough,” or “I pay you too much,” this kind of comment can lead to resentment among colleagues.

2. Your boss reprimands you in front of other employees
This is a form of bullying, which is never acceptable or appropriate. While you may have made a mistake or error that deserves discussion, a good boss will handle this in private.

3. Your boss has unreasonable expectations
This one is tricky, as it may be difficult to determine whether the boss’s expectations are unfair. The bottom line is that managers need to communicate their expectations for work performance clearly, they should assist employees when needed, and set reasonable deadlines for projects.

Forbes.com: How to win over your boss

4. Your boss shares too many personal details
You’re an employee, not a therapist. Your boss shouldn’t share problems or details of their personal life, even if they consider you a friend. If you find the conversation regularly veers in this direction, be very brief in your responses and then change the subject back to business. Remember this goes both ways. Don’t bring your own problems or your personal life to the office.

5. Your boss makes inappropriate references
Any comment from your boss that makes you squirm, wince or blush is probably one that shouldn’t have been made. This includes jokes and emails, or comments about your physical appearance. Also, any type of implication that the boss is interested in a relationship of a personal nature, even if it’s not something you’re opposed to, is completely inappropriate. It could also be a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.

6. Your boss implies that sex, race, age or religion is a factor in work performance
None of these things have anything to do with your ability to do the job, and the suggestion that it might is not only unfair, it’s discriminatory.

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Forbes.com: How not to behave at the office party

© 2012 Forbes.com

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