Is Flirting at the Office Unlawful?
How to know if it’s harmless or if it’s harassment
Your new coworker is outgoing, friendly, talkative … and apparently, a flirt.
He unabashedly compliments you on your appearance, smiles and winks at
you as he walks by, and jokingly asks if he is your “type.”
You were friendly at first but now you’re becoming increasingly uncomfortable
as his flirting escalates.
You’re also concerned about how his interaction with you is being
seen by other coworkers and your supervisor. Finally, you tell him in
no uncertain terms to leave you alone. He doesn’t. Instead, he mocks
you, and complains about you to coworkers.
Is this harassment? Let’s discuss the difference between flirting
and harassment at work.
Flirting v. harassment—what’s the difference?
The key difference between flirting at the office and harassment is that
harassment is unwelcome and discouraged.
Harassment is often persistent and severe. Flirting may begin innocently
enough but then develop into harassment. It can be about the violation
of a coworker’s boundaries.
When it comes to flirting at the office, asking the offender to stop should
be enough. If the flirting does not stop, or escalates, it may cross the
line to harassment.
Harassment under the law
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national
origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
Harassment can occur when severe and persistent conduct creates a hostile
work environment due to its intimidating, hostile, or offensive nature.
The standard is objective rather than subjective, that is—the conduct
must be of such a nature that a reasonable person would consider intimidating,
hostile, or abusive.
When flirting gets out of hand
If a coworker’s flirting makes you feel uncomfortable, offended,
or intimidated, tell the person directly and firmly that the behavior
is unwelcome and to stop immediately. You should also report the offending
conduct to management. Note the date and time of your report, as well
as who you spoke to.
If you are not sure if a coworker’s flirting constitutes harassment,
tell him or her to stop. If the behavior does not stop, that is a clear
indication that it is not harmless flirting but harassment.
Harassment that is not addressed by management may require legal intervention.
The consequences of harassment
Harassment in the form of unwanted flirting may result in an adverse employment
decision, such as cut backs in hours or firing. However, harassment is
unlawful whether or not it results in negative work-related actions.
If you suspect that flirting in your workplace has crossed the line to
harassment, and that the conduct you are experiencing or witnessing is
unlawful, you should speak with an experienced employment attorney.
Contact us now to discuss your unique situation.