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Flirtation or Sexual Harassment?

Flirtation or Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a hot topic but unfortunately not a new topic. Females have been harassed for years. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between friendly behavior and subtle sexual harassment. Other times, it's crystal clear. The first time I experienced inappropriate behavior by a man was when I was a college student and the coach of the men's swim team kissed my neck.We were practicing head hold releases in the shallow end of the pool for a water safety instructor class. I jumped out of that pool so fast and ran to the women's locker room, my whole body was shaking. I had a hard time understanding what had just happened. Unfortunately, I had no idea what sexual harassment was when I was 20-year-old college student. No one had ever discussed the subject with me.

Years later, I taught Sexual Harassment Awareness training to more than 500 corporate employees. When the training ended with the executive team, the CFO walked up to me and told me that every executive could be sued for creating a hostile work environment. He didn't need to tell me, I was very aware that the Senior Executives, who were all male at that time, behaved badly. Some more than others. One of the executives consistently made me uncomfortable. He made comments about my appearance and my clothing and used awful language. His comments were definitely unwelcome. When I shared with my boss how uncomfortable this man made me feel, her response was, “That’s just the way he is.” I started to keep a record of every inappropriate, unwelcome thing this executive did when he was with me. I never thought about suing him or the company but looking back, I could have. My bosses’ response was NOT what a boss should say. A better response would have been, “I’ll take care of this, you should never be uncomfortable at work.”

Every employee should know what is considered sexual harassment. Quid pro quo is easy to understand, this for that. If you have sex with me, I will give you a promotion. Creating a hostile work environment is a bit harder to define. Is flirting with someone at work wrong? Is giving a co-worker a compliment or a hug taboo? It depends. Is the behavior welcomed? When the behavior is not welcomed, it could be considered creating a hostile or uncomfortable work environment. Sometimes, co-workers don’t even realize that their behavior is unwelcome. In the photo above, the man is invading the woman’s personal space. No one wants someone in their personal space unless they are invited.

If you or your employees are having a hard time determining what kind of behavior is inappropriate and/or unwanted, use the following questions as a guide.

  • Would I want my behavior to be the subject of a column in the company newsletter?

  • Is there equal power between me and the person that I'm interacting with?

  • Would I behave the same way if the person I'm in a relationship with were standing next to me?

  • Would I want someone else to act this way towards a person I'm in a relationship with?

  • Is there equal initiation and participation between me and the person I'm interacting with?

If you are interested in scheduling Sexual Harassment Awareness training for your staff in 2018, give me a call today at 845-294-7089. Don't wait until you make the news!



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