August 5, 2016

When calling a Colleague “Honey” is inappropriate.

Terms of Endearment…in the Office.

Women (my age, younger, older) make comments about my appearance regularly (if you see my ridiculous sense of ‘fashion,’ you can’t blame ’em). Sometimes, it’s a bit…tiresome, but usually it’s flattering or ‘whatever.’ They call me honey, darling, sweetie—or talk about my legs, or my cleavage (my shirts aren’t very well buttoned in the summer).
On the other hand, men (particularly older or in powerful positions) saying such to women (particularly younger or in less powerful positions) is clearly inappropriate.
But then there’s a gray area: are common appellations of courtesy or friendliness like “honey,” “sweetie,” “cutie,” or “darling”—words devoid of sexuality and yet expressing a sort of intimate warmth—inappropriate? If they are, are they worth suing over? If they aren’t, do we just need to chill or take responsibility for directly asking someone not to say such?
I ask because I heard, indirectly, once, that my calling someone “cutie” in my office who worked for me, who was female and younger, was inappropriate. I call everyone in my office (Bill, Sara, Ashleigh, Dave, Caitlin, Lindsey, Emily, Kaitlin, whomever) all sorts of things. We’re pretty young, friendly, social.
I get that there’s a line, of course. But if someone’s wearing a cute outfit (not sexually cute, but stylish), it seems friendly and straightforward to share a compliment. Needless to say, I have no flirty intention and never am “sexual” with staff.
But, then again, if we want to play it safe, we can just remove all that sort of friendliness (or whatever you wish to call it) from the workplace. That’s fine. But we are throwing the baby (a warm, relaxed office for both women and men) out with the bathwater (clear sexual harassment, which is never appropriate). 
Is there a middle way?
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