When you get wind of a potential harassment situation at work, one of HR’s first steps is to talk to the alleged harasser.
It’s highly unlikely you’ll get a full confession in that first meeting. Your role is to sort through the explanations and justifications to identify the real truth. In doing so, be on the lookout for the following common excuses:
1. “I didn’t mean it.”
It’s not enough for an employee to claim that he or she didn’t intend to be offensive. Sometimes, the effect of the behavior outweighs the intent of the harasser. Even if the employee didn’t intend to harass, if the target objectively and subjectively felt harassed, the employer could be held liable.
2. “I was just kidding.”
A variation of “I didn’t mean it.” Here, the employee is claiming he or she was trying to be funny, rather than offensive. Humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Again, the effect may outweigh intent.