What is offensive behaviour?

Offensive behaviour is a generic term for bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination (e.g. based on race, gender and age), violence, threats or other forms of offensive behaviour.  

Offensive behaviour means that one or more individuals rudely or repeatedly subject another person or other persons to bullying, sexual harassment or other degrading behaviour at work. The behaviour must be perceived as degrading by the person(s) subjected to the behaviour (section 23 in the Executive order on psychological work environment).

The people involved in offensive acts will often experience the reasons for the offensive acts differently. Therefore, it is important to hear statements from all parties.


Detailed examples and definitions


According to the Danish Working Environment Authority, bullying is when one or more persons regularly and over an extended period of time – or repeatedly in a rude manner – subject one or more persons to offensive acts which the person(s) perceives as degrading or hurtful.

However, the offensive acts only become bullying when the persons they are aimed at are not in a position to defend themselves effectively against them.

Bullying is different from other types of offensive behaviour in that it is always systematically aimed at the same persons or groups of people. It is also often the same person or persons who engage in the offensive behaviour.

For example, the repeated actions may consist of:

  • Abuse of power
  • Disparaging the person’s work or qualifications
  • Coarse language, in either vocabulary or expression
  • Withholding necessary information
  • Slander or exclusion from the social and professional/academic community
  • Telling-off and ridicule
  • Hostility or silence in response to questions or attempts at conversation
  • Offensive phone calls
  • Offensive written messages

Sexual harrassment

According to the Act on Equal Treatment, sexual harassment denotes any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct with sexual undertones aimed at violating a person’s dignity, particularly by creating a threatening, hostile, degrading, humiliating or unpleasant environment.

Examples of sexual harassment:

  • Unwanted physical contact, touching, patting, hugging, squeezing, caressing etc.
  • Unwelcome insinuations with sexual undertones, such as smutty stories, jokes, comments on a person’s appearance and crude verbal assaults
  • Suggestions, expectations or demands for sexual services
  • Crude and compromising propositions or invitations to sexual activity
  • Displaying pornographic images
  • Physical assault
  • Inappropriate questions about sexual matters

Note that the list is not exhaustive.

It is often women who are subjected to sexual harassment, but it is important to be aware that men can also be subjected to sexual harassment.

Violence and threats

The Danish Working Environment Authority defines violence as a generic term for both physical violence and psychological violence, including threats and other offensive behaviour.

Work-related violence involves both risk and actual incidents of work-related violence.

Violence and threats of violence are actions or threats, whatever the purpose might be, which could violate another person’s integrity or which frighten, hurt or injure that person.

Violence can have the same effect on other people who witness or overhear it. Violence may be a deliberate action or an action done in anger.

The action also constitutes a breach of accepted laws and standards.


  • Physical violence includes attacks on the person, such as assault, attempted strangulation, stabbing, kicking, punching, pushing, tripping, restraint, throwing things, pinching, biting, scratching or spitting.
  • Psychological violence includes threats of violence or other offensive behaviour, such as threats to life, threats of vandalism in the workplace, threats to a colleague’s family or friends or to their property, and systematic disparagement.
  • Threats may be expressed without words, e.g. with clenched fists or a finger drawn across the throat, or in the form of drawings.
  • Psychological violence and threats of violence can also be communicated via texts, email or websites.


Discrimination can be defined as unfair discrimination, which means that a specific individual is treated worse than others. 

Discrimination can have several reasons, e.g. gender, race, skin colour, religion, political opinion, sexual orientation, age, disability or national, social or ethnic origin.