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Juvenile behavior isn’t always harassment

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Teen employees are sometimes clueless about what’s appropriate at work. From time to time, their behavior may seem … well … juvenile. 

Feel free to counsel youthful employees when things need to be brought back into control. And don’t worry. Kids acting their age doesn’t automatically mean you’re liable for sexual harassment. 

Recent case: Ashley Riley bused tables at a Mexican restaurant. Most of her co-workers were teenagers, as was Riley. 

One day, a male co-worker asked her, “When are you going to come over for pizza and sex?” Riley ignored him. He made the same statements several other times, but Riley ignored him. 

Then the co-worker and another teenage boy, who were off work and with a group of other employees having dinner at another restaurant, decided they would send Riley “something funny” via cell phone. Minutes later, Riley received a photo on her cell phone depicting someone urinating. 

She quit her job and sued, alleging sexual harassment. 

The restaurant owners argued that, while the conduct Riley found offensive was in poor taste, it didn’t amount to sexual harassment because it wasn’t severe. Plus, they argued that the cell phone photo wasn’t sexual in nature despite Riley’s claim that it illustrated a sexual fetish. 

The court agreed and dismissed the case. (Riley v. Valencia, et al., No. D054292, Court of Appeal of California, 4th Appellate District, 2009) 

Final note: Include training on spotting sexual harassment in all employee orientation, even for part-time teen employees. Under California law, sexual harassment “consists of any unwelcome sexual advance, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” 

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