Sad to say, most charges of sexual harassment grow out of some common misunderstandings about what the danger signs are. Time and time again, supervisors use those misunderstandings as a defense — and companies pay for it.
Supervisory trainer Lynne Curry often hears the three reasons managers give for overlooking harassment that seemingly goes on right under their noses:
- “No one ever asked her for sex.” That defense is common because too many supervisors think sexual harassment is only about sex. Of course, it’s not, nor is it about “romance.” Supervisors need to be aware that the category includes comments, innuendo, insults and so-called “harmless” physical contact.
- “She never complained.” Victims do have some responsibility for ringing the alarm, but in many court cases, judges and juries have warned that supervisors have responsibility, too. The reason: The law recognizes that victims often are intimidated and reluctant to make waves for fear of losing their jobs or just being branded as troublemakers. That means the supervisor has a responsibility to be proactive about suspicions, and not wait until the victim pleads for help.
- “He’s a great employee who’d never do something like that.” Good people do dumb things all the time. And sometimes a supervisor may be reluctant to take action against a high-performing or well-liked employee, for fear of losing the employee’s services or having to find a good replacement. Here’s how that looks to a court: You let someone victimize another employee because of business convenience. Then things start to get really expensive for the employer.