Everybody knows the workplace is supposed to be free of all forms of harassment. Everybody also realizes that’s the platonic ideal.
The good news is that, with vigilance, you’ll protect your organization from sexual-harassment lawsuits because any harassment that surfaces won’t be pervasive and severe—the test that courts use to sort harassment from workplace annoyances.
Recent case: Geraldine Dar Dar sued her employer for allegedly allowing a sexually harassing work environment. She told the court that over the course of 22 months she was twice touched on the buttocks (once by a 70-year-old female).
Plus, she said a male co-worker asked her if she had seen or heard about panties with a “built-in butt”; another co-worker once told her he had seen “a whale of a [male organ]” in the men’s room.
The trial court dismissed her case because, added together, the incidents weren’t severe or pervasive, although they certainly were crude and risqué. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and said the incidents weren’t sufficiently severe to be harassment. (Dar Dar v. Associated Outdoor Club, No. 07-10618, 11th Cir., 2007)
Final note: It’s a good idea to remind everyone—managers, supervisors and other employees—about the company’s sexual-harassment policies. Including a commitment to a harassment-free environment in employees’is one good way to have an annual discussion about the issue.