PHOENIX — Using appropriate terminology in the workplace is important to make people feel included and safe, according to experts.
Jennifer Ward, the Arizona president of Employers Council, says many people make seemingly innocent comments that could be insulting.
She says it's not about being politically correct. It's about caring about your coworkers.
"Everyone has a different experience in life. You don't know what their history is, you do know what kind of challenges they've faced in their lives, how other people have treated them, and so the things you say can be triggering based on those experiences," said Ward.
Some things are obviously offensive, like using racial or religious slurs, or the "r" word. But Ward says there are popular words and phrases considered to be micro-aggressions.
Here are some examples:
- Referring to a group of women as "girls" or ladies" can be insulting or can diminish their place in the workplace
- Calling something or a situation "crazy" can be insulting for someone struggling with mental health challenges
- Using Native American references like "having a pow-wow" or "you're off the reservation"
- Using sports metaphors like "can of corn" or "knocking it out of the park" could exclude non-sports fans
"It's really shifting toward including only a certain group of people which is generally men, traditionally it's men who know sports metaphors more," said Ward.
Ward says as a rule, you should stay away from comments referring to age, sexual orientation or gender.
If a person indicates a comment or phrase is unwelcomed and you continue to use it, that coworker could make a hostile work environment claim.
"There's this line between inappropriate conduct and illegal conduct. When you cross over that line, that's when you run risk of discrimination lawsuit or harassment lawsuit," said Ward. "It's not about being perfect, it's having the awareness of the impact of your language and making choices and an effort to do better is the best that you can do."