What is the ‘workplace’ when it comes to sexual harassment?
In today’s diverse job market, the term “office” is beginning to seem antiquated. Physical buildings with designated desks are still common, of course, but the workplace has been expanded to include frequent interstate travel, telecommuting and any number of work-related functions that take place outside the office.
What does this changing environment mean in terms of expected workplace behaviors? For instance, is sexual harassment that occurs outside the physical office still considered to be workplace sexual harassment? In most cases, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, it can feel even more difficult to stand up to sexual harassment when it occurs at a work-related function outside the office.
These can include conferences, trade shows and other events where you are representing your company. They could also include work-sponsored social events like a company picnic or happy hour. Needless to say, any time that alcohol is served, the risk of coworkers acting inappropriately goes up.
If you have been subjected to inappropriate comments, unwanted touching or other sexual harassing behavior by a colleague at an out-of-office function, you may be hesitant to either stand up to the harasser or report the behavior. The office often seems like a safe space where we can bring our concerns to human resources representatives. But out of the office, the line between work and socializing gets kind of blurred.
Because of this, it’s actually more important to set clear boundaries in these situations. If you are worried about being harassed while at a conference or trade show, for instance, it may be helpful to have a response and exit strategy in place before you arrive. Knowing what to say to your harasser and when to walk away is empowering. It also reduces your chances of experiencing similar behavior in the future.
As a final note, please remember that in most cases, any work-related function outside the office is governed by the same rules of conduct expected in the office. As such, you can share your concerns with management and human resources representatives no matter where the harassment occurred.
Source: Florida Today, “The Edge: Sexual harassment should never be tolerated,” Caroline Kempf, June 23, 2014