Human Resources

Are These Scenarios Harassment?

Yesterday we continued our “is this harassment” three-part series. Today, the final installment.

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Jake P Scares Penny R

Penny R’s job as receptionist for ABC Enterprises was “pretty cool,” she thought. She got to greet everyone when they came in and she enjoyed the daily visits from the various service people who came by. Except for Jake P, one of the computer consultants. Whenever he came in, he’d look her up and down and make some comment about her attractiveness. Then he’d come up to her counter and lean over and whisper some pretty rude line about what he’d like to do with her.

A couple of times, Penny got up the courage to say to her boss that Jake was annoying her, but the boss laughed it off, saying, “Oh, Jake, he doesn’t mean any harm. And, besides, what can we do—Jake’s not an ABC employee.” Soon after, Jake’s attentions became more offensive, and he began to touch Penny. Suddenly she didn’t feel very safe in her isolated area. Among the many visitors to her reception desk were attorneys, and she had developed a friendly relationship with one of them. So she called him.

Was Penny subject to sexual harassment? Is ABC going to be liable?

It appears to be harassment or at least inappropriate. If the manager knew about the behavior—it appears he did—and didn’t act, that will be a problem.

What about the fact that Jake isn’t an employee?

That may make it harder to stop the behavior, but it doesn’t lessen the employer’s burden to do so.

Joan T Works the Bar

Bart L managed the operations of the three bars in the sprawling Downtown Hotel. At one bar, Joan T, one of the cocktail waitresses, was subjected to some pretty rowdy talk and some occasional drunken pinching and hugging from a few regulars at the bar. She complained to Bart, but he said, “Hey, it’s a bar. When they get a little tipsy, they get a little frisky, but you get great tips, and keeping the regulars happy is part of the territory.”

Joan complained again, to no avail. One night, the pinching and hugging started to be a bit more like groping, and Joan headed for the EEOC to file a complaint. The hotel manager called Bart in. “Why am I on the carpet?” Bart asked. “I didn’t do anything.” “That’s just it,” said the hotel manager. “You didn’t do anything. You should have.”

Was sexual harassment occurring at the bar? It sure seems like it.

What about Bart’s “Hey, it’s a bar” theory? Supervisors and managers have a duty to take action when they receive a complaint (or find out about harassment in some other way). Inaction is seen as condoning the behavior. In this type of environment, there may well be a large gray area as far as a spicy comment here and there, but there is no gray area when it comes to intimate touching.

Thanks for sticking through our 3 day “is this harassment” series. For more on sexual harassment, check out the HR Daily Advisor for articles and for resources.