Keep Flirting Out of the Workplace

David Davidar, who was CEO of Penguin International, the publishing house, was fired recently after an employee complained of sexual harassment. The harassment suit is against David (who was earlier CEO of Penguin India) and there's also a suit against Penguin for not taking action when the victim complained.

Author Ashok Banker wrote two blog posts (one after David's statement that the relationship was a "consensual flirtatious" one)

Going through the comments on Banker's blog posts shows how complex something like this is. And according to Canadian employment law a counter-claim may not help.

There's only one golden rule (whether you are straight/gay, man/woman) when it comes to romance/flirting in the workplace between two employees (however consensual it might seem) : Don't Do It.

On the legal aspects of sexual harassment here's a good resource to go through:

In India, it has been only six years since sexual harassment was for the first time recognised by The Supreme Court as human rights violation and gender based systemic discrimination that affects women?s Right to Life and Livelihood. The Court defined sexual harassment very clearly as well as provided guidelines for employers to redress and prevent sexual harassment at workplace.

While the Apex Court has given mandatory guidelines, known as Vishaka Guidelines, for resolution and prevention of sexual harassment enjoining employers by holding them responsible for providing safe work environment for women, the issue still remains under carpets for most women and employers.

Vishaka guidelines apply to both organized and unorganized work sectors and to all women whether working part time, on contract or in voluntary/honorary capacity. The guidelines are a broad framework which put a lot of emphasis on prevention and within which all appropriate preventive measures can be adapted. One very important preventive measure is to adopt a sexual harassment policy, which expressly prohibits sexual harassment at work place and provides effective grievance procedure, which has provisions clearly laid down for prevention and for training the personnel at all levels of employment.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

According to The Supreme Court definition, sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, such as:-

  • Physical contact
  • A demand or request for sexual favours
  • Sexually coloured remarks
  • Showing pornography
  • Any other physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

Sexual Harassment takes place if a person:

  • subjects another person to an unwelcome act of physical intimacy, like grabbing, brushing, touching, pinching etc.
  • makes an unwelcome demand or request (whether directly or by implication) for sexual favours from another person, and further makes it a condition for employment/payment of wages/increment/promotion etc.
  • makes an unwelcome remark with sexual connotations, like sexually explicit compliments/cracking loud jokes with sexual connotations/ making sexist remarks etc.
  • shows a person any sexually explicit visual material, in the form of pictures/cartoons/pin-ups/calendars/screen savers on computers/any offensive written material/pornographic e-mails, etc.
  • engages in any other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which could be verbal, or even non-verbal, like staring to make the other person uncomfortable, making offensive gestures, kissing sounds, etc.

    It is sexual harassment if a supervisor requests sexual favours from a junior in return for promotion or other benefits or threatens to sack for non-cooperation. It is also sexual harassment for a boss to make intrusive inquiries into the private lives of employees, or persistently ask them out. It is sexual harassment for a group of workers to joke and snigger amongst themselves about sexual conduct in an attempt to humiliate or embarrass another person.

    Quid pro quo and hostile work environment are the two broad types of sexual harassment.

    Sexual harassment at workplace is generally classified into two distinct types. 'Quid pro quo', means seeking sexual favours or advances in exchange for work benefits and it occurs when consent to sexually explicit behaviour or speech is made a condition for employment or refusal to comply with a 'request' is met with retaliatory action such as dismissal, demotion, difficult work conditions. 'Hostile working environment' is more pervasive form of sexual harassment involving work conditions or behaviour that make the work environment 'hostile' for the woman to be in. Certain sexist remarks, display of pornography or sexist/obscene graffiti, physical contact/brushing against female employees are some examples of hostile work environment, which are not made conditions for employment.


    UNWELCOME is the key in defining sexual harassment. It is the impact and effect the behaviour has on the recipient that will define the behaviour as sexual harassment.

    What is a workplace? A workplace is any place where working relationships exist, where employer ? employee relations exist.

    Sexual Harassment: Prevention and Resolution

    Combating Attitudes

    Patriarchal attitudes and values are the biggest challenge in implementation of any law concerning women in our society. Combating these attitudes of men and women and the personnel involved /responsible for implementation of laws and systems is most crucial in prevention of unwanted sexual behaviour. Preventing and avoiding sexual harassment involves all levels of employees/persons in any oganisation-employees and colleagues, management and bodies like trade unions. Most importantly it requires for the employer to act before a problem occurs.

    Steps Employers Can Take to Prevent Sexual Harassment A policy / procedure designed to deal with complaints of sexual harassment should be regarded as only one component of a strategy to deal with the problem. The prime objective should be to change behaviour and attitudes, to seek to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment.

    As an employer know the following:

    I] First and foremost, acknowledge that it is your legal responsibility to provide safe working environment for women free from sexual harassment and discrimination and that you can be held liable for sexual harassment by employees.

    II] Know that sexual harassment can have a devastating effect upon the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it. The anxiety and stress produced by sexual harassment commonly leads to those subjected to it taking time off work due to sickness, being less efficient at work, or leaving their job to seek work elsewhere.

    III] Understand the reasons why women remain silent about sexual harassment. An absence of complaints about sexual harassment does not necessarily mean an absence of sexual harassment. It may mean that the recipients of sexual harassment think that there is no point in complaining because:

    – nothing will be done about it;
    – it will be trivialised;
    – the complainant will be subjected to ridicule, or
    – they fear reprisals.

    IV] Recognise the tangible and intangible expenses and losses organisations experience:

    – Costly investigation and litigation
    – Negative exposure and publicity
    – Embarrassing depositions
    – Increased absenteeism
    – Lowered employee morale
    – Reduced productivity
    – Decreased efficiency
    – Higher employee turn over
    – Erosion of organisation?s brand names, goodwill, and public image
    – Negative impact on stock price

    The best way to prevent sexual harassment is to adopt a comprehensive sexual harassment policy. The aim is to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur and, where it does occur, to ensure that adequate procedures are readily available to deal with the problem and prevent its recurrence.

  • Posted via email from Gautam’s Miscellanous Posts

    About Gautam

    Gautam is a HR professional interested in how emerging technologies are impacting work, careers and organizations.

    Posted on June 24, 2010, in blogging. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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