I applaud the efforts to make companies and job sites less sleezy and better working environments because back when I first got into business, I witnessed some interoffice behavior that would make your head spin. Chauvinistic, hurtful, rude and crude actions between managers and employees, employees and employees, even employees and customers.
Corporate reaction to sexual harassment really started taking form in the mid 90s. I remember working for a Los Angeles radio station back then, a time when I encountered my first taste of how serious companies were dealing with this issue.
I was a radio host and producer of a popular morning show, I believe it was 1996. There was a sales assistant in the office where I worked who I always bumped into day after day. It quickly became obvious that this young woman had a thing for me because she started leaving me naughty little love notes in my office message box.
When I say, “naughty little love notes”, I mean, very detailed descriptions and fantasies of where she was hoping to go with our interoffice friendship. The wording was graphic, crude and something that could have been taken from the pages of an erotic romance novel.
I was in my 20s, I was single and I didn’t have the relationship with God that I have today. In other words, at that moment in my life, receiving communication like this didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it kind of flattered me.
Me and the Program Director [my boss] were tight. I was able to talk with him about anything because producing content for the radio show opened up all kinds of conversations. That said, knowing we were boyz, I took some of these notes to him so that he could get a kick out of them with me.
Upon reading them, he laughed [a little uncomfortably] with me and then we went our separate ways and finished our work day.
The following morning, I got called into the General Manager’s office. The GM was sitting at his desk, the PD was there, a company attorney was there and the woman in question was also in there, her head down and crying.
I was confused. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I didn’t hook up with this woman. I wondered for a minute if I was being set up by her. I concocted a thought that since I never accepted her advances, she turned on me and was trying to take me down. People are crazy like that. It’s a fair thought.
The GM started speaking, “Wayne, we brought you in here because it has been brought to our attention that you have been a victim of sexual harassment.”
“Sexual Harassment?” I asked. “I was not sexually harassed.”
The lawyer then opened up a folder with copies of the letters that this woman wrote to me. They had prepared a whole legal file against her and they were trying to get me to sign off on the complaint so that they could fire her.
“I thought sexual harassment was unwanted advances in the workplace,” I queried. Then I made sure to let them know that “I didn’t have any issues with her advances.” I really didn’t. Being young and immature, I actually thought it was kind of funny.
Their legal team gave me an explanation that moved in circles and didn’t really make any sense to me. I was, however, able to quell the situation and get them to just give this woman a warning, instead of firing her.
At the time I thought their response was ridiculous. I felt it was a corporate overreaction and unnecessary. However, as I grew up in business, I started understanding the possible ramifications I could have brought to that company had they not documented it. If I had ever taken issue with that company, I could have pulled out those letters as a smoking gun and made them pay for it.
They needed to protect themselves.
BE CAREFUL OF THE LITTLE THINGS
That was an extreme and obvious example of a sexual harassment situation. What about the simple ones? The little things like when a co-worker asks you to give her a neck massage. That happens in just about every office.
DO NOT give an office massage! Any kind touching in that manner will get you written up or fired for sexual harassment; even if your co-worker asked for it.
Take a look at what The CA Fair Employment and Housing says on the subject:
They define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser. The following is a partial list of violations:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
- Making or threatening reprisals after a negative response to sexual advances
- Visual conduct: leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of suggestive objects or pictures, cartoon or posters
- Verbal conduct: making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, and jokes
- Verbal sexual advances or propositions
- Verbal abuse of a sexual nature, graphic verbal commentaries about an individual’s body, sexually degrading words used to describe an individual, suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations
The three most common types of sexual harassment complaints filed with the Department are:
- An employee is fired or denied a job or an employment benefit because he/she refused to grant sexual favors or because he/she complained about harassment. Retaliation for complaining about harassment is illegal, even if it cannot be demonstrated that the harassment actually occurred.
- An employee quits because he/she can no longer tolerate an offensive work environment, referred to as a “constructive discharge” harassment case. If it is proven that a reasonable person, under like conditions, would resign to escape the harassment, the employer may be held responsible for the resignation as if the employee had been discharged.
- An employee is exposed to an offensive work environment. Exposure to various kinds of behavior or to unwanted sexual advances alone may constitute harassment.
I brought this blog into play so that you could take a moment to look in the mirror. Have you been “getting away” with office behavior [management or employee] that you know could eventually come back to haunt you. Remember, the playful fun co-worker today can easily turn on you tomorrow if the company wrongs them in any way.
Keep it on the straight and narrow when you’re at work–especially if you’re in management. The laws written towards supervisors harassing employees are hardcore and in some cases serve up criminal punishment. It’s not worth it.
You go to work to work. Save the play time for after work.
Your future will thank you for it.
Go get ’em Tiger!