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Co-Worker’s flirtation isn’t sexual harassment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Casting admiring glances or making other such flirtatious gestures toward a co-worker isn't sexual harassment under the Florida Civil Rights Act. That law doesn't require employers to guarantee that employees won't ever look at each other in a way perceived as a "come-on."

Nevertheless, it's best not to shrug off sexual harassment complaints by saying "He's just flirting with you." Investigate every single complaint, and document the results. Don't presume to know what a court will deem a sexually hostile environment.

Recent case: Idalia Maldonado, a Publix Supermarkets employee, complained to management after a co-worker rubbed up against her. A supervisor talked to the offending employee, who claimed it was an accident. A year later, the same employee grabbed Maldonado and propositioned her. This time, Publix gave him a written reprimand and scheduled him for a transfer.

Before the transfer, the co-worker bit his lip on two occasions in Maldonado's presence. Interpreting that as a come-on, she sued for sexual harassment.

The Florida Court of Appeals dismissed the case, concluding that flirtatious behavior didn't amount to a sexually hostile environment. Even if it did, Publix took prompt remedial action, reprimanded the employee and arranged a transfer. The court said, "Flirtation is not sexual harassment," and employers can't guarantee co-workers won't ever "come on" to each other. (Maldonado v. Publix Supermarkets, No. 4D04-4335, Court of Appeals of Florida, 2006)

Tip: The best way to survive a harassment claim is with a strict sexual harassment policy and by following up on all complaints, as Publix did.  

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