‘Innocent’ touching can still be sex harassment — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

‘Innocent’ touching can still be sex harassment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

For some supervisors, being a good boss is literally a hands-on job. They’re constantly patting workers on the back or wrapping them up in an innocent hug. But watch out if they’re “touchier” with female subordinates.

Recent case: Cassandra worked as a welder, a job generally dominated by men. PortaCo hired her on a 90-day probationary basis. Almost from day one, she began complaining to her direct supervisor that the company’s majority owner was touching her against her will.

He allegedly walked up behind her while she was welding and tried to reach into her pants pockets. Another time, he allegedly grabbed a piece of chalk and outlined her breast on her work shirt.

According to Cassandra, she regularly complained directly to her supervisor. The day after she was promoted to a permanent position, she stopped coming to work. Then she sued, alleging she had endured a hostile work environment.

The company (and its majority owner, the alleged harasser) claimed that there was nothing sexual about the behavior and asked the court to toss out the case.

The court would not. It reasoned that if harassment such as touching and grabbing is largely confined to female employees, that’s still discrimination on account of sex. Only women have to endure the behavior. It ordered a trial. (Mehl v. PortaCo, No. 11-36, DC MN, 2012)

Final note: It’s hard managing HR when an owner is the one allegedly harassing or discriminating against employees. But that doesn’t change the law. In this case, the employee complained and nothing was done.

If you are faced with a similar situation, consider showing the owner a list of cases where the company lost. Dollar signs may get his attention.

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