Tuesday, January 20, 2009

When Does Horseplay Become Harassment?

Many offices encourage an open state of communication among their employees. Because there is such a state of openness, many coworkers actually become friends. Many people talk to their friends and joke about things to their friends that, in many cases, could constitute sexual harassment. However, because these people are friends, it isn't really sexual harassment, it's merely horseplay.

The biggest question is when does horseplay become sexual harassment? There is no hard and fast rule that dictates when bantering and horseplay between the sexes crosses a line and becomes sexual harassment. In most instances, this is something courts decide.

The fact that an employee participates in, tolerates, or laughs off mild sexual innuendoes or lewd remarks does not mean that the employee welcomed the contact or conversation. Many times people tolerate these things to a certain degree to fit in with the crowd. Employees can complain of sexual harassment later even if they joined in the discussion as long as they did not invite the remarks. If things should get out of hand, even employees who might have at one point encouraged or even started the off-color remarks with their coworkers can have a reason to complain. The biggest portion of the discussion is the question of fact.

Flirting can take the same route as banter. What is flattering or complimentary to one person can be offensive, objectionable, and even frightening to another. One person can view an instance of flirting or mild horseplay as innocent fun while another person in the room at the same time might view the same instance as aggressive, insulting, demeaning, or even part of a pattern of a hostile environment. Here it is easy to see how one person may not view a comment or set of behaviors as objectionable while another objects vehemently.

Hostile work environment is a completely different situation. While the person directly engaged in a conversation or flirting or any other sort of innuendo-laced conduct, other people in the office might take a different view of the exact same behavior. These behaviors can form a hostile work environment if they are carried on enough. If a person feels that the work environment is hostile, he or she has the right to complain to the employer or manager. At this point, it is the employer's duty to put an end to the problem.

If you would like more information on sexual harassment or other employment problems, please visit http://www.losangeles-employmentlawyer.com.

Joseph Devine

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