Western Kentucky University

Sexual Harassment Training

Common Questions and Answers

 

Can I compliment my co-workers?
Of course you can compliment your co-workers, but make sure your comments are free from sexual undertones. Compliments like "Nice legs!" or "You look hot in that outfit!" can make someone feel very uncomfortable, even threatened. Perhaps the person you're complimenting is not bothered by the comments, but others may be.

As one court put it: "A male supervisor might believe, for example, that it is legitimate for him to tell a female subordinate that she has a 'great figure' or 'nice legs.' The female subordinate, however, may find such comments offensive."

Lipsett v. University of P.R., 864 F.2d 881 (1st Cir. 1988).

 

Can rumors be sexual harassment?
Yes, spreading rumors about someone's sex life can create a hostile and threatening work environment for the person who is the focus of the rumors.

You will create more respect for yourself and a better workplace for everyone if you refuse to gossip and spread rumors of any kind.

 

Isn't she being just a little too sensitive?
Well, maybe you think a co-worker is being too sensitive, but remember that we all have different perspectives. Even if you cannot imagine why the person is offended, accept and honor his or her feelings as legitimate.

If you think your humor or teasing might be offending someone, STOP it immediately, even though you think the person is being too sensitive. Then ask yourself how you would feel in the other person's place, or how you would feel if your daughter/mother/spouse were subject to similar humor or teasing.

 

Aren't people entitled to a little fun?
Both men and women are entitled to a little fun, and behavior that is welcome can't be sexual harassment.

Humor that targets another group or with sexual content can be inappropriate and belittling. Before telling a joke, ask yourself whether anyone in your audience might find it offensive. If so, don't tell it. Sometimes even though people laugh, they are privately offended.

 

I'm the boss. Is it possible to be harassed by my subordinates?
Yes, subordinates can harass the boss.

For example, Nancy has just been promoted to project leader of an all-male team of engineers. The team conspires to degrade and embarrass Nancy by standing to attention in unison when she enters the room and calling her "your highness" with mock solemnity, while leering and smirking to each other.

This example points out the strong relationship between harassment and disrespect.

 

Can I be fired for inappropriate behavior, even if it is not strictly illegal?
Yes, you can be fired for behavior that is legal but not appropriate at WKU.

If someone in authority notifies you that your behavior is unsuitable, you must stop that behavior. If you continue the behavior despite warnings, you risk termination.

 

Does "No" always mean NO?
When pressured by sexual advances, particularly from someone in a position of authority, many people are afraid to object. They may soften their response for fear of anger or retaliation.

When someone says "No," accept that at face value. It is not worth risking sexually harassing behavior.

Bottom line: "NO" always does mean "NO."

 

How many times do I get to ask before NO really means NO?
You may want to get together socially with someone from work that you find attractive. However, you need to make sure the desire and attraction is mutual.

If you are turned down for a date, you might ask the person whether a request would be welcome at another time. This question opens the door for honest communication. Some people do not feel comfortable clearly saying NO, for fear of offending. Use your judgment. If you are turned down more than once, do not use pressure. Move on.

 

Isn't she asking for it when she dresses that way?

When a person wears provocative clothing, isn't he or she asking for comments? Perhaps even sexual comments?

Someone who wears clothing inappropriate for the workplace may be used to gaining attention through sexual attraction or may just have poor taste in apparel and style.

Each individual has a responsibility to dress appropriately; however, regardless of what a person wears, others do not have a right to sexually harass that person. Interestingly, this raises the point that an individual who frequently dresses in tight and scanty clothing may be accused of subjecting co-workers to a hostile work environment.

 

I didn't mean anything by it. It was just a joke. Doesn't that matter?
If someone doesn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings by "harmless" joking, he or she may still be guilty of sexually harassing behavior.

The determination of whether a behavior is sexually harassing is not based on how it is intended, but on how it is received. If the behavior is "unwelcome" and has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, as judged by a "reasonable person," then the behavior can be construed as sexual harassment.

 

Is there such a thing as same gender sexual harassment?
Yes. For example, sexual harassment is sometimes committed between heterosexual members of the same sex.

For example: men can threaten or tease other men, particularly those who are effeminate or "different," with outrageous verbal threats, vicious pranks, assault, and other abusive behavior. Such behavior is potentially unlawful and always inappropriate in the workplace.

The court case involving Joseph Oncale, an oil rig worker, is an example of a heterosexual male suffering from such harassment. Joseph claims that members of his all-male crew singled him out for crude sex play, unwanted touching and threats of rape. He won the right to file a same-sex harassment case by taking his case to the Supreme Court.

 

But we were living together!
A large number of sexual harassment cases are filed after mutually consensual affairs break up.

In reaction to the split-up, the rejected party may harass the person who chose to break up the relationship. The existence of an earlier consenting relationship does not mean harassment is allowable after the break-up.

Romance is always risky in the workplace.

 

Is swearing verbal harassment?
Rita's boss regularly uses offensive language. When he gets angry, he calls her and other employees names like "@#$%ing piece of !@#$" and "@#$#%ing slug."

While swearing is unprofessional, it may not be considered illegal. There is a weak argument that it is not a form of sex discrimination if it is directed at both genders. However, highly charged sex-related swearing, name-calling and similar language can create a hostile environment. It is best to keep your language clean, at least while you are at work.

 

Are military standards different?
The laws against sexual harassment apply to the military as much as to civilian life, although the many military sexual harassment scandals in the media might make you think that the military has lower standards.

According to a 1995 Department of Defense study, 78 percent of women in the military had been sexually harassed by military personnel while on or off duty.

Former Pentagon personnel director Lawrence Korb has stated, "This is still a man's profession, with a lot of men who intellectually and emotionally have not accepted that the military could be women's work."

The Navy's Tailhook Scandal represents the extreme of sexually harassing behavior. At a Navy convention in 1991, more than 83 women were molested and 7 men assaulted during three days of drunken partying.

Since that time the military has made concerted efforts to roust out sexual harassment from its forces.

 

What's so wrong with sexy pictures?
Sexually oriented objects and visuals, such as pinups, calendars and centerfolds from sex magazines, portray people as sexual objects in demeaning circumstances. They create an offensive, intimidating, and hostile work environment and create the potential for a sexual harassment complaint.

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 Last Modified 7/3/14