For years, employers have grappled with what sexual harassment is and what it isn’t. Lost in the debate is the fact that a workplace is just that—a place where work is supposed to be done.
Here’s a good way to end the arguments about what is sexual harassment and prevent potential problems down the line: Implement a policy that clearly bans sexual banter. Then punish those in violation.
Remember, in most discrimination cases (which employees often file after they’ve been disciplined for harassment) the employee has to show he was meeting the employer’s expectations—and breaking a rule such as this one means he wasn’t.
Recent case: LG Electronics has a strict workplace rule that prohibits “sexually oriented or explicit remarks, including written or oral references to sexual conduct.” All employees receive a copy of the rule.
Gabriel Othon apparently ignored the rule because he propositioned his female boss for various sexual acts. He then told her he would blackmail her if she didn’t consent, and suggested that the work problems he was having would all go away if they had sex. Then he told others that his supervisor was having an affair with another employee.
Not surprisingly, the supervisor reported Othon’s proposition to HR. Othon was asked whether the allegations were true, and he readily admitted his conduct. LG then fired him for breaking the rule on sex talk.
He sued, alleging discrimination. But the court said he had to show that he had been meeting his employer’s legitimate expectations. Since he admitted to breaking a workplace rule, he couldn’t show that. His case was dismissed. (Othon v. LG Electronics, No. 08-C-878, SD IL, 2009)
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