Unwanted “sexual banter” is harassment

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In the Hollywood movie Horrible Bosses, two friends dismiss the claims of the third who says he is being sexually harassed by his female boss. “We should all be so lucky” is the general flavour of the remarks.

However, leading experts warn that what makes harassment distinct from flirting or harmless banter is that it is unwanted, and, critically, makes the subject feel unsafe – regardless of whether it’s a male or female.

More than 50 per cent of woman and 26 per cent of men say they have been the victims of sexual harassment at work, according to a Queen’s School of Business study.

When a claimant in a 2010 case was awarded $30,000 in damages her former employer had to pay $19,000, with the rest paid by the individual responsible. The employer was found to have contributed to a “poisoned work environment” and did not investigate sufficiently.

If ever HR has been inclined to counsel an employee that their claim of sexual harassment should be ‘taken on the chin’, it may be high time to consider the fundamental meaning of harassment.

Queen's School of Business professor and expert in organizational behavior, Jana Raver says many offenders rationalize their actions as harmless, but harassment can take a variety of insidious forms that are sometimes difficult to identify.

Mutual workplace flirtation is not harassment, but when either party feels humiliated or intimidated it moves into unacceptable behaviour.


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