When does office flirting become sexual harassment?
What might be to one person a funny, flirtatious email, to another it could be completely unwanted and actually quite offensive. Unfortunately, in the workplace, this type of behaviour is more common than people think and is causing some very controversial debates, particularly in the social domain.
According to TUC, more than 50% of women said that at some point during their working life so far, they’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace. While this is incredibly shocking to learn, it’s also important to remember that this type of harassment can happen to anyone, at any time.
Since the launch of the #metoo campaign, more and more people are now coming forward to talk about their experiences and to educate others on the matter. But the question so many people are now asking is, when is flirting in the workplace considered acceptable and how can we tell the difference between an innocent remark or physical gesture, as opposed to an intended act of sexual harassment? Is there a so-called ‘grey area’ or is it all black and white?
What defines an act of sexual harassment?
First things first – let’s outline what this type of harassment in the workplace constitutes.
Sexual harassment is, as defined by Acas, any “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature” that has “the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a worker, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them”. This can happen verbally or in written form and can be an ongoing problem, or a one-off incident.
Either way, all employees are protected from sexual harassment and every business should be taking appropriate measures to reinforce what is considered unacceptable in their place of work.
Is there a thin line?
Interestingly BBC Radio 5 recently explored a whole range of different workplace scenarios in a radio drama called ‘Grey Areas’ which is set in a fictional recruitment agency.
The drama covers a broad set of topics, including ‘what’s acceptable on a work night out with colleagues, through to, ‘whether it’s ever appropriate to ‘like’ a picture of one of your employees if you’re their boss”.
If, like us, you find this subject matter incredibly interesting, we definitely recommend listening in here.
Has this issue gone too far?
One thing we find most interesting about the BBC Radio 5 drama is the differing responses from listeners up and down the country – including both men and women.
While some are ‘disgusted’ by the remarks made, others are simply worried at how ‘ridiculous’ and ‘out-of-control’ the issue is becoming, suggesting that at some point men and women will find it almost impossible to talk to each other in the workplace due to a nagging fear of unconsciously overstepping the mark.
We’d love to know, what’s your take on the matter?