How to Respond to “Orange” Workplace Conduct


Janine Yancey



If you follow Emtrain’s views on sexual harassment and workplace conduct, you know we believe in color coding conduct as a shared workplace language. People have different views on what is or is not harassment and one person’s “harassment” is another person’s friendly gesture. So you have different perceptions. You also have imprecise language that makes differing perceptions an even bigger challenge to navigate. People say “harassment” imprecisely so it’s pretty common to have a frustrated person call out harassment when in fact, it’s really less than harassment (but still problematic) and the person is simply reacting from emotion and frustration. So the benefit of using a shared workplace language, specifically designed to categorize and describe workplace conduct on a respectful spectrum is a proactive way to anticipate sticky situations and get people communicating effectively, enabling them to course correct and eliminate negative “people” situations that crop up when people work together.

The Workplace Color Spectrum®

We color code conduct by using our Workplace Color Spectrum®. The Workplace Color Spectrum® describes the range of conduct from healthy to toxic: green, yellow, orange and red.  On the green, healthy side of the spectrum, you have people who are showing up to work as their best selves: respectful, ethical, inclusive, empathetic, patient, and a good communicator. We can all be green but it’s unrealistic to think we’re green all the time because it takes work and discipline to be green. Yellow conduct is when we’re less than ideal: not as respectful or patient, our communication isn’t as effective as it could be, etc. Orange conduct refers to when people start bringing in personal characteristics (that are legally protected) into the workplace, such as race, gender, religion, age, national origin, sexual orientation, and others. How is orange conduct brought into the workplace? Typically through jokes or casual conversations with co-workers. Orange conduct injects a note of disrespect and exclusion (an “us versus them” mentality) — even if it’s a joke that makes people laugh — using personal characteristics as the basis for the comment or joke shows a lack of respect and courtesy. If left unchecked and orange conduct continues, the situation could turn toxic for people; toxic on our Workplace Color Spectrum™ means a culture with turnover, disrespect, exclusion and the potential for a big loss in employer brand and reputational value (as well as legal violations). (See our video on How to Color Code Workplace Conduct Using the Workplace Color Spectrum®.)

What is the Best Way to Respond to “Orange” Behavior?

So how do you respond to orange conduct and help course correct? By simply telling the person the comment or joke was a bit orange. You don’t need to be confrontational, angry or emotional.  You identify orange actions in the same way you’d give any other performance feedback; by providing feedback on the ACTIONS rather than criticizing the PERSON. It’s NOT personal because we ALL go orange once in a while. We all engage in an “us versus them” mentality at times; it’s called being human. So tell the person their actions are a bit orange; say it in a nice tone of voice and the person will appreciate your effort at helping them avoid a problem. If everyone in the workplace understands that orange means we’re on a slippery slope to being toxic, then a simple orange callout should be enough to course correct and keep the workplace culture on a good, healthy track. Watch our video Responding to Orange Conduct to see real workplace scenarios that teach these principles in an interesting and entertaining way.


Janine Yancey

Emtrain founder and CEO Janine Yancey has been certified by both Federal and California courts as an expert in harassment training and investigations—she’s provided expert testimony on both topics. As a harassment investigator, Janine investigated allegations of harassment and misconduct within former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown’s office. Prior to the passing of the AB 1825 harassment training regulations, Janine successfully defended the City of Roseville in a five-week harassment jury trial and used the City’s harassment training efforts to help persuade the jury to return a verdict for the City. Janine has served as employment law counsel to many Bay Area technology companies, including Google. She also authored The HR Handbook to help young technology companies successfully navigate workplace laws.

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