Each of my responses hinges on the assumption that the questioner isn't asking because it's all okay. I assume the questioner is asking because it troubles him/her and is a problem.
1. Is it harassment if my boss emails me and tells me to f*uck off?
I can't speak at all to the legality of any of this but if my boss did that, I'd be pretty upset. And understandably so. It's grossly unprofessional and inappropriate. (I assume you aren't seeking validation because it was said jokingly and is the common form of speech, a la teenagers shrieking goofily, "Oh SHUT UP!" when what they mean is, "For real, seriously?") There's a problem, and if it's a pattern, I urge you to try constructive problem solving with a person who can help. If it is past any point of return, consider whether it is the right environment for you.
2. Boss hand on thigh
Yes, this is in appropriate.
Women, we need to not worry about hurting feelings or creating an awkward moment at the expense of ourselves.
First, the awkward moment was already created when the man acted inappropriately. You can ignore it but it won't go away.
Second, this means you need to use your words.
"That's a personal touch, please remove your hand and don't do that again."
You can both speak up and be polite.
Third, you need to keep track if there is a pattern or he won't stop, and report it. I don't promise reporting it will solve it, or provide justice, but I still strongly believe it needs to be done.
3. Boss coming on to me
See number 2.
4. Coworker saw my underwear and harassing me
Juvenile locker room behavior aside, this creates a hostile and distracting work environment if it goes on too long or too strong. Use your words. Follow avenues available to you to stop this and solve it.
5. Advice about sexual harassment at work
Don't take it. Just don't.
You didn't cause it; it's not your fault. It's wrong and needs to stop. You know it's wrong because you feel uncomfortable. If you ask for it to stop and it doesn't, you need to use your words and take action.
To all these and the rest:
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a straightforward fact sheet about sexual harassment. Click here to read it. A key point from that sheet is
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
That sheet also provides instructions about how to file a complaint. If your company wont do anything, there are other avenues available to you.
Human resources at about.com offers some examples of sexual harassment:
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of situations. These are examples of sexual harassment, not intended to be all inclusive.
* Unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing, and unwelcome comments and repartee.
* Touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching or patting a coworker's back, grabbing an employee around the waiste, or interfering with an employee's ability to move.
* Repeated requests for dates that are turned down or unwanted flirting.
* Transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature.
* Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or posters.
* Playing sexually suggestive music.
I believe every person is responsible for knowing this, and for being accountable for when their actions---intention or not---harm a coworker. Companies should provide the education, but if not, know it yourself.
To those being harassed
It's not your job to fix the system. I sometimes wonder if one person can, anyway. But each time we stand up against sexual harassment, each report we make...it all adds up and hopefully creates a better situation for the next woman or next generation.
You do what you can, not what someone else thinks you should or what you think a better woman would. You are a good woman. And this sort of abuse wears you down, drains you, robs you of your power. Sometimes, we can't do as much as we'd like. The most important thing is to salvage yourself and get your power and equilibrium back. Just do what you can.
To those of us who let it roll off our backs or think we just need to be good sports
It's a slippery slope, friends. We are all well-conditioned to not be the spoilsport---women even more so with the nice thing. But there is a hard line, here, now. What is a funny joke to one woman might seriously disturb another.
Take a look at the definition and examples of harassment.
And just keep that out of the workplace. In case.
But consider...all I went through? Somebody else thought it was funny.
Too, too many people don't understand the boundary. So just keep on the safe and courteous side.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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