Rethinking Workplace Behavior: Sexual Harassment Not Always Obvious

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek December 18, 2017

Sexual harassment allegations against more than 100 high-profile men have elevated discussions and actions in dealing with this type of misconduct in the workplace. Firings, forced resignations, independent investigations and HR-led oversight panels are some ways companies are dealing with revelations that their employees have engaged in sexual harassment.

And it's not just women who can be subjected to harassment; men also can be victims of sexual misconduct.

But aside from more blatant forms of inappropriate behavior—groping, predatory actions and other lewd behavior—depicted in allegations against people such as movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and journalists Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, some people are confused as to what constitutes inappropriate actions at work.

SHRM Online has compiled recent stories from reputable news organizations that look at this issue.  

Compliment or Come-On? Confusion Over How to Define Sexual Harassment 

The sexual harassment scandals over the past couple of months are causing some workers to rethink some of their office behaviors. Is it still OK to compliment a colleague on the way he or she looks? What about a congratulatory hug? Acceptable, or too risky in this new environment? Navigating those distinctions isn't always clear. 

The Difference Between a Compliment and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Because sexual harassment doesn't always look as obvious as Weinstein's alleged conduct, talking about it is often fraught with misunderstanding and a lack of empathy—those who've never experienced it might be quick to dismiss unwanted comments or touching as "friendliness." It's what happens when "locker room talk"—an equally dismissive phrase—hits the showers, gets dressed and heads back out into the world.
(Chicago Tribune)   

Quiz: Is It Sexual Harassment?  

Test your knowledge about which behaviors warrant investigation by HR—and possibly the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
(SHRM Online)    

[SHRM members-only resource: Ask an Advisor—Sexual Harassment Investigations and Prevention]

Minnie Driver Says Matt Damon Doesn't 'Understand What Abuse is Like' 

Minnie Driver—who dated Matt Damon in the late 1990s—doubled down on her criticisms of the actor's recent suggestion that there's a spectrum where different levels of sexual misbehavior fall. In an interview, Damon contended not all levels of sexual misconduct should be equated.
"There's a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?" he said.
Noted Driver, "I've realized that most men, good men, the men that I love, there is a cut-off in their ability to understand. They simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level." 
(Daily News)   

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: What Crosses the Line? 

Since The New York Times published its first story on Weinstein's alleged sexual misconduct, it started a national conversation about sexual harassment —particularly in the workplace. Allison West, an employment attorney and HR specialist, joined "CBS This Morning" to help define what constitutes harassment, when situation rise to the level of violating the law and why workplace relationships between a supervisor and a subordinate are never OK. 
(CBS News)  

Sexual Harassment Training Should Be Separate for Managers and Rank and File

Managers and the rank and file need to be told different things during sexual harassment training, so keep their training separate. Employees need to know the basics on respectful and professional behavior and where to turn if they are the victims of sexual harassment, legal experts say. Managerial training should focus on how to end disrespectful conduct, how to avoid liability, how to handle complaints, the investigation process and anti-retaliation rules. 
(SHRM Online)   

6 Signs You're Being Sexually Harassed at Work

Sexual harassment, especially when it's happening to you or around you, is not always clear-cut and obvious. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. But it doesn't have to be of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can also include offensive remarks about a person's sex. 
(Business Insider

Workplace Harassment Resources

Allegations of workplace harassment are becoming more common. Training, policies and these tools can help HR prevent and respond to harassment claims.​

Was this article useful? SHRM offers thousands of tools, templates and other exclusive member benefits, including compliance updates, sample policies, HR expert advice, education discounts, a growing online member community and much more. Join/Renew Now and let SHRM help you work smarter.


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