In a previous post on Facebook, I explained that flirting and sexual harassment are not one and the same, citing my extensive HR (Employee Relations/EEO) experience as part of the premise for my position. This gave rise to some questions, concerns, and some comment section and inbox push back. So, allow me to be clear.
If you look at what is happening to men in the public eye and this scares you, consider what you are saying.
In over FIVE DOZEN investigations, I have never seen someone lose their job for a single compliment said in passing to a colleague. NOT ONCE.
To meet the burden of harassment, the behavior must be “severe and pervasive.” That can be a subjective bar. I get that but keep reading.
The men who have lost jobs, careers, and reputations have all done things that I have encountered at some point in my career. Here is how I have characterized that, or similar conduct in written documents:
*Sexual Assault, to include unwelcome touching, exposing genitalia, touching genitalia,
*Introduction, promulgation, distribution, and/or willful retention of sexually based and/or sexually allusory comments, jokes, and/or images,
*The overt or implied expression of sexual desires,
*Sexual gestures, to include feigned ejaculation and mock masturbation,
*Repeated offers and/or requests to go to places outside of the workplace, for purposes that fall outside the requirements of the role, during a time frame that falls outside the normal and customary work hours, AND/OR for purposes that could be equally, even if not identically, be satisfied in other ways and at other times that DO fall within the parameters of the professional setting,
*Removal of clothes, such that skin not normally visible in the workplace is exposed, to include but not limited to genitalia, or the request for someone else to do the same,
*Introduction of, or the encouragement or perceived inducement of, drugs and/or chemical substances to the body/ system of another person without their express permission,
*Continued and persistent unwelcome and/or unrequited compliments and/or gift giving, including, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, statements of a sexual or romantic nature.
QUESTION: ARE YOU DOING ANY OF THESE THINGS?
Further, there are components of tone, frequency, and environment. Add to that the context of a professional relationship.
Here are a few questions to consider if you find yourself concerned about if you have crossed the line from flirting to harassment.
1. Is this your first or one of your first interactions with this person? If you are in the workplace, your initial interaction ( or soon thereafter) should NOT BE ABOUT ANYTHING OTHER THAN WORK.
2. Is this your first compliment? If so, see #3. If not, how was the FIRST compliment received? Was it reciprocated? Have any compliments been returned to you? Have any been initiated by the other party?
3. Are you complimenting an inanimate object or a physical characteristic? In the workplace, limit compliments to inanimate objects. Compliments of physical characteristics and/or characterizations of physical features should be accompanied by a level of intimacy that is not appropriately attained or expected solely by a workplace relationship.
(i.e. – “That’s a really nice suit, Kaija” is different and distinct from “I like how your body looks in that suit, Kaija”.)
5. If you complimented this person and they didn’t like it, could them telling you that, or telling a person in authority, jeopardize their job? If so, compliment their work ONLY. As often as is practicable, do so in writing or with an audience. Recognize that your elevated position endows you with power and responsibility. Keep the power then you keep the responsibility. Don’t like it? QUIT.
6. Are you respecting private space while giving this compliment?
7. We are all adults. You know and I know that there is a tone of voice and/or a way of looking at another person that transforms a casual question into a veritable stripping off their clothes, and in so doing, of their dignity. IF YOU CANT BE INTEGRAL, BE HONEST.
Here’s a quick litmus I taught in my classes:
1. If your compliment was recorded and played from the pulpit (or gathering of an organization which you respect), would you feel proud or ashamed?
2. If your mom or Big Mama was standing behind you when you paid that compliment when you turned around and saw her (or insert a figure who you deeply respect), would you be embarrassed?
3. If your 17-year-old daughter (or niece or goddaughter) read that compliment, would she look at you the same?
FINALLY, I do NOT agree that we need to move to an “at work, only discuss work” paradigm. In those same aforementioned HR capacities, I have attended quite a few weddings and baby showers in celebration of romantic relationships initiated in the workplace. For many who “live their job”, the workplace may be their only plausible forum to meet a potential mate – especially in our hyper-isolated societies. Barring an explicit and specific written workplace policy, if adults want to interact amicably such that it becomes a precipitous catalyst for a romantic relationship, and said relationship does not interfere with workplace interactions or expectations, nor is it unduly evident in the context of other workplace interactions, my only request is that you give me enough notice of celebratory events so I can do a quick saltwater flush and get some new Spanx. Do you.
I repeat, don’t lump yourself in with dudes grabbing female genitalia, locking folk in rooms and raping them into unconsciousness, tricking women into hotel jaunts, groping thighs, and whipping out their penis. You’re better than that. Right? If not, yes, your day may come as well.
T. Max Christie McMillan is a seminary student, minister, wife, mother, author, and business owner that promotes boisterous indignation of GOD’S people against the evils of racial oppression.
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