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Sexual Harassment Usually Starts With Inappropriate Comments

by on
in Human Resources

According to the Novations Group's annual workplace ridicule survey, sexually offensive remarks were heard more often in 2007 than in 2006. Specifically, 42% of the 546 male and female employees surveyed reported hearing sexually offensive comments in the workplace, up from 34% in 2006.

 

While a sexually inappropriate remark here or there won't generally rise to the level of a hostile environment, such comments are often a precursor to a viable sex harassment claim. Here are two examples.

 

1. A male employee tells a female co-worker he finds attractive what he'd like to do to her if they were alone. He never touches her, but his comments become more frequent and more graphic.

 

2. A female employee corners a male colleague and propositions him. Whenever possible thereafter, she brushes against him, gives him a hug, or massages his shoulders.

 

Too many supervisors dismiss isolated comments until it's too late — until those comments become anything but isolated or the aggressor acts on his/her words. That's why it's imperative that your supervisors immediately discipline employees for:

making verbal advances or propositions of a sexual nature;

 

  • making graphic verbal commentaries about an individual's body;

 

  • making sexually derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, and jokes; and

 

  • using sexually derogatory words to describe an individual.

 

Stress to them that they must take disciplinary action even if the complaining employee does not feel physically threatened by the remarks; humiliation is an equal consideration, ruled the 11th Circuit. In the case before it, an executive allegedly "mortified" and "embarrassed" a female employee by failing to dispel rumors that they were a couple; telling people at a company event that she was not his date, but that he wished she were; and publicly offering her and her boyfriend $1 million if she would spend the night with him.

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