There are many examples of obvious behaviors that many would agree constitute behaviors that can lead to sexual harassment. But many times those examples can be about more subtle conduct.

For example, one woman described that during a professional email communication with her boss late at night, the boss sent her an email stating, “by the way, you are beautiful.” To some, this is a compliment. To most, this is creepy, unprofessional and wrong.

Too often in the workplace (or after hours) comments are made to another person that are too personal and go beyond normal pleasantries. These include comments about someone’s looks or beauty. These also can include comments like, “You are wonderful,” or “I love spending time with you.”

While traditionally this occurs when a man believes that comments on a woman’s looks, clothes or appearance are mere friendly welcome compliments, the interactions also can occur by women toward men, or in a same-sex environment. No gender is exempt from creating an unpleasant work environment for others.

In some cases, the person making the comment is not intending to sexually harass the other person, but is just trying to develop a more personal and friendly working relationship with another person, culturally believes that it is the person’s duty to make the person feel good about him/herself or is just trying to find something to say.

For most women in particular, the so-called “compliment” is not welcome and creates an awkward encounter.

This includes texting and online communications.

Co-workers/bosses should avoid sending a message at 10 p.m. — or anytime, for that matter — to someone with words like “hey beautiful” or “what are you up to?”

If a person responds “ha ha” in the message — the recipient is probably creeped out.

Recently, Twitter user Talia Jane was engaged in a direct message conversation with a Seattle Times reporter when he acknowledged an “awkward transition” to asking her if she thought about applying for reporter positions.

Then, with no prompting from Jane, at 3:10 a.m., the reporter states, “Anyway, you’re so beautiful.” Three minutes later, he messages, “Anyway you are hilarious.” She does not respond to either message. Forty minutes later, he sent a lewd message.

She responded to him, “this isn’t appropriate or acceptable.” He apologized, saying it wasn’t intended for her. Jane complained to the newspaper, and she openly tweeted about the communication.

The best advice that I can give: put the electronics away. If you are at work thinking sexually about another co-worker or even thinking that another co-worker smells good or looks pretty, don’t text, email or direct message the person what is on your mind.

If you are at home thinking about your co-worker and how pretty or handsome the person is, reconsider whether you should send a message that is personal, out of place and invasive. Everyone deserves a respectful workplace, and most people want their co-workers to back off from these awkward and unprofessional comments that are unwelcome and not acceptable to most.

Karen Michael is an attorney with Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC. She can be reached at kmichael@karenmichaelconsulting.com.

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