Sex at work happens. As a legal HR consultant for businesses large and small, I have seen it all. I have investigated the bizarre to the shocking to the terrible. Sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. That is a broad definition, and I saw many incidents that spanned the range. For a more detailed definition of sexual harassment and the legal history, see this post.
Here are five actual sexual harassment incidents I investigated, and the obvious lesson to learn from each.
The Philandering Executive
There was a newly hired executive who introduced himself to his company by holding up a framed photo of his wife and telling all of his new colleagues how much he loved her and how beautiful she was. The very next week he met a different woman at the office and he walked her around from cube to cube introducing her as his mistress.
Lesson: If you’re married and you cheat on your wife, you’re a bad husband. If you’re married, you cheat on your wife, and you bring your mistress into work, you’re creating an environment that might be viewed as hostile by female coworkers.
The Creepy Salesman
At a retail store, a female employee had worked for the company for over 20 years and was frequently there by herself. She reported a male sales employee would regularly walk into the store when she was by herself, see her, and drop his pants. She would scream at him to leave, and he would, only to return a week later and repeat the scene all over again.
Lesson: Keep your pants on.
The Naughty Auditor
A financial audit consultant was handing over files to a financial officer of the company on a zip drive. The zip drive actually contained naked photos of herself and her sex toys. The financial officer was unsure what to do: Give it back? Throw it away? Confront her? It was also unclear if the auditor had intended to give the photos over as a sexual advance or if she had mistakenly shared the wrong zip file with her client.
Lesson: Don’t keep naked photos of yourself anywhere near work.
The Cheating Husband
A husband and wife both worked for the same company. One day the wife called HR because she found out her husband had been having an affair with his direct report. The direct report, since she was in a relationship with her superior, was also considered a victim. Though the husband could be punished, the company could not ask the direct report to leave the company. The wife was understandably furious that she had to continue to work alongside the other woman.
Lesson: Sleeping with your subordinate is sexual harassment. If your superior makes sexual advances toward you (even if you go along), you are a victim.
The Former College Athlete
One of my first investigations was of a newly hired employee who had just graduated from college. He had been a college athlete and began sending pictures of his body to his female co-worker’s personal email account. When asked about the photos, he denied ever sending them. When I showed him the pictures, he didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation. He smiled and said, “So she doesn’t want to go out with me?”
Lesson: Don’t share naked photos of yourself with anyone at work.
These investigations were pretty easy to get to the bottom of. There was plenty of evidence, and fortunately the victims were not terribly traumatized.