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sexual harassment

My boss is sexually harassing me… what do I do?

Sexual harassment has been with us forever. In recent years, consequences have developed for such behavior. The workplace has long been the arena for gamesmanship alongside the work needing completion. Sometimes the games appear to be all in fun. However, the underlying question is always whether everyone understands the rules. Better yet, does everyone even agree about the existence of the rules?

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

What you say and what you do at any time and at any place affect your life.  If you are unclear about its current setting, take a look at the recent reports about Fox Business News and the effect of alleged sexual harassment on its company reputation, its employees and its advertisers. No winners here.

That is often the case when sexual harassment rears its ugly head in your workplace. Rarely do the parties involved agree about what happened. Often there are no witnesses. Yet both parties are subjected to what can often be serious and in some cases, disastrous, consequences.

For the accuser, ridicule and doubt in varying degrees are experienced. In many cases a demotion or reassignment to the far horizon are the unexpected result. No win in sight, unless a financial settlement is considered to be a win in face of all the other negative possibilities. Settlements almost always are coupled with termination. This isn’t to say one should back off from stopping the situation; serial sexual harassers should be stopped and where appropriate, prosecuted.

For the accused, shame and/or anger are a part of the package. The rest is made up of a demotion, reassignment, or, in the more severe cases, termination, loss of employment and in the extreme, criminal charges. Not a win in sight, here.  And, not as rarely as one might think, the accused is often not consciously aware of how hurtful the actions have been.

The smart money says to avoid this area at all costs. The comment, the touch, the reference is simply not worth whatever fun may be at your fingertips at the time. What you say can be taken out of context or taken in offense. What you do can make your job disappear or even have you speaking with law enforcement.  Comments that you think are “aw, it’s nothing” have sunk more than a few ships in the employment waters.

The simple answer is to think before you speak or do. Remember, you are co-workers not beer buddies, at least not while you are at work.

Always use the mom test.  Think about whether what you are about to say to a co-worker would fly in front of your mother. Or whether what you are about to do would be acceptable in your mother’s presence.

For those who have to hear the inappropriate comment or participate in an unwanted experience, remember that reporting it is paramount if you want something done about it. But don’t be unrealistic about the fact that there is a high probability of backlash, and while you can argue whether that is fair, it just often is what happens.

The workplace should be a space where women and men are productive and work well together. That can only happen if everyone treats each other with respect and dignity, just as your mom taught you.

And if what you say or what you do does not pass the mom test, you shouldn’t be doing it at work.

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