Flirting with unemployment Sexual harassment

Make sure you're fully aware of the legal position before you start in hot pursuit of your colleague. Avoiding accusations of sexual harassment - unwelcome and uninvited physical, verbal, or visual behaviour that is sexual in nature - is crucial but fraught with ambiguity.

One man's compliment is another woman's harassment

Richard could've been described as the office creep. The older women were used to him creeping up and complimenting them over their shoulders. Although they found this behaviour unnerving, Richard was essentially harmless and had never actually done anything more inappropriate to anyone.

When Richard tried to make an impression on the new girl in the office, however, she took an instant dislike to him and found his approach offensive. She accused him of sexual harassment and reported him to human resources. Richard was flabbergasted and protested he didn't mean anything by his actions; indeed, he'd behaved this way with the other women in the office for years. Human resources pointed out to him that intention is irrelevant; how the recipient perceives his behaviour is what defines sexual harassment. Luckily, Richard walked away with a warning and managed to keep his job.

Following are important things to know:

✓ Sexual harassment refers to how the recipient interpreted an action, not how it was intended by the offender. For example, a man may think he's being friendly paying a woman in the office a compliment. However, if she's offended by his action then it can be considered sexual harassment, even if other women in the office aren't offended by the same man paying them compliments. Or if a woman insists on touching colleagues or kissing people on greeting and a man finds this invasive or offensive, this too can be interpreted as sexual harassment.

✓ Ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law. Many companies send their employees on sexual harassment courses; first, to educate staff on how to avoid it, and, second, to indemnify them against liability if someone who has been educated on the matter does actually commit a sexual harassment offence.

✓ Sexual harassment can be a career-limiting event. A sexual harassment conviction usually puts you straight to the top of the reject pile in the short-listing process.

Continue reading here: Flirting boundaries at Work

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