What constitutes a hostile work environment?

Posted in Sexual Harassment on January 17, 2014

It is not unusual in sexual harassment cases for defendants to argue that allegedly inappropriate behavior and comments were just part of the workplace culture at a particular company. This argument might be especially likely in cases where sexual harassment was not motivated by sexual desire, but was instead related to the victim’s appearance or perceived sexual orientation.

For instance, men may try to harass their male colleagues for acting/dressing/looking effeminate or for being gay (regardless of whether or not they actually are). Even if this type of male-on-male harassment is common in a given workplace, that does not make it okay. No one should have to put up with a hostile work environment.

Similarly, women can also face sexual harassment that is not necessarily motivated by lust. For instance, women who work in a primarily male workplace may be harassed for acting too “butch” or for not “dressing like a lady.” Such comments would be equally inappropriate if spoken by female colleagues.

Company owners and managers would do well to remember that sexually charged teasing among coworkers can get out of hand and should not be tolerated. In the early stages, such behavior/comments might not be enough to prove sexual harassment in a lawsuit. But if left unchecked, the behavior/comments are likely to escalate into clear-cut sexual harassment for which owners and managers would be liable.

We all have the right to work in an environment that fosters mutual respect. If disparaging and sexually charged comments are justified as “just part of the culture,” the eventual result is not hard to predict.

Source: Business Management Daily, “Stop harassment by reining in sexual banter,” Jan. 14, 2014