Human Resources

Is it Harassment? Training Scenarios

Harassment training is always tricky—Discuss or demonstrate the behaviors of harassing managers, and you may be creating an uncomfortable environment just with your training.

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One important thing to remember about harassment—bad behavior is virtually always going to be inappropriate before it is legally harassment. Act against such behavior at the inappropriate stage; don’t wait until you’re sure it’s “harassment.”

Here are a few scenarios that should get discussions going.

Gayla’s Dress is “Provocative”

Gayla G’s job took her all around the facilities of Business Consulting Inc. She thought of herself as a very with-it dresser, but some of her co-workers thought her wardrobe was “a little suggestive.” True, her skirts were short, and her tops were low-cut, but she watched what she ate, and she worked out at the gym every day to keep herself in shape—why not show it off?

Gayla did have a rather “flirty” way with the men in the company. She liked to come up close to them and make a provocative comment. One day, when no one was around, she approached co-worker John P. in her usual way. He hugged her, pressed himself against her, and grabbed her buttocks.

Unfortunately for John, Gayla had taken the rape avoidance training her gym offered, and she left him somewhat shocked and more than a little in pain.

Gayla reported the incident, and when John was confronted, he said, “Well, she’s been asking for it with her sexy clothes and come-on comments.”

Was this harassment?

Well, it’s moving toward battery, but it’s surely not appropriate. Courts have consistently held that provocative dress or behavior does not excuse aggressive actions such as John P’s.

Is the case any different if John is the flirting sexy dresser and Gayla is the one who grabs him?

No. People tend to stereotype harassment as something men do to women, but it applies equally to women harassing men.

Matt Won’t Date Jackie

Sales manager Jackie J developed a fondness for Matthew M, who was one of her best salespeople. She kept trying to get him to go out with her after work, but he refused. “No, thanks,” he answered. “I don’t like to date people from the office.” Eventually, Jackie gave up her quest, and all seemed to have returned to normal. Not too long afterwards, however, when the quarterly sales awards meeting was held, for the first time, Matthew wasn’t selected for the “President’s Circle.” When he asked Jackie about it, she said, “Well, your ‘performance’ has been slipping a little. Perhaps this will get your juices flowing again.”

Is that sexual harassment or retaliation?

Of course, we don’t know, but it has the taint of retaliation. If Jackie can document the business reasons for her decisions concerning the President’s Circle, then maybe she can avoid the charge of retaliation. If she can’t, a retaliation charge might be harder to rebut.

Tomorrow we’ll continue with our series “is this harassment.” Stay tuned.