“If I said you had a great body, would you hold it against me?”
From time to time, I get asked to conduct workplace investigations. I love this type of work, particularly harassment investigations, because they are difficult. Rarely is there “surefire” proof of the offense and I have yet to find an employer that has a great “smoking gun” defense.
A recent sexual harassment investigation had me thinking about the importance of really understanding the “totality of the circumstances.” Specifically, the investigator must identify the “nature” or motive of the employees’ behavior and the “context” in which the situation occurred. Failure to do so will likely result in flawed conclusions.
“You’re good looking.”
“Surely you know you capture their attention?”
“You know you’re a hottie.”
“You turned my head.”
Before I jump in, let me assure you I am no supermodel. Don’t get me wrong, I know I didn’t put the “U” in “You ugly” but I’m also certain there is nothing spectacular or unique about the way I look. That being said, I feel I am somewhat reasonable in my perceptions noted below.
“You’re good looking” was offered by a dude outside a gas station and was quickly followed by “gotta dollar?” The intent of the statement skewed the complimentary semantics and I was not flattered.
“Surely you know you capture their attention?” was offered during the recent SHRM Leadership conference. The SHRM photographer (damn him) had taken a picture of me on a bad hair day and later that afternoon, my bad hair and I were 20 feet tall on the Trinitron. This naturally resulted in a self-deprecating comment. A colleague who was sincerely surprised about my inability to see myself as others saw me offered the statement. The intent of the compliment was to be kind, the context was appropriate and the result was me feeling flattered.
“You know you’re a hottie” was immediately following a terrible, hateful and crude insult about another female. I was escorting a drunk guy out of my Frozen Yogurt shop at the time. His lack of respect towards the other woman, his language both before and after the comments and his intoxication all played into the context of the situation; it did not make the moment flattering for either of us.
“You turned my head” was offered during the above mentioned sexual harassment investigation. The alleged harasser was reasonably defensive and unreasonably obstinate. His arrogance, the fact I did not know him professionally or personally, and the fact I had just concluded eleven interviews with women claiming he was overly personal, patronizing and manipulative all played into the intent and context of the situation. Therefore, it is safe to say I was somewhat amused but alas, I was not flattered.
The examples offered above serve to communicate the importance of the investigator to identify the motive/intent of the behavior and context in which the situation occurred.
In addition to the motive/intent and context, there are other issues playing into the “totality” of the circumstances:
- Frequency or duration of the conduct
- Probability that the conduct occurred (I use both direct and circumstantial evidence)
- Severity of the actions
- Workplace culture or sub-culture
- Employer’s response to current and previous complaints
I consider all of the above factors prior to drawing a conclusion about a workplace investigation. I hope the silly examples offered in this post inspire you to think a bit harder before you make your next recommendation!
Until next time, keep lookin’ good and feelin’ better! 🙂