Sexual harassment is not just a violation of trust and respect, it is also unlawful. That is why perpetrators and enablers of sexual harassment can end up in deep legal trouble. There are many different kinds of sexual harassment, from sexual assault, to telling lewd jokes, or sharing obscene material. These days there is a greater awareness of sexual harassment and the harm that it can inflict on people.
That is a good thing, but it does have some people walking on eggshells and wondering what kind of behavior could be construed as sexual harassment. Like asking a coworker for a date for example. The answer can get complicated and is not always black or white. If you want to know more, then you can learn more about harassment here.
Is Asking a Coworker For A Date Sexual Harassment?
It is understandable why one coworker might develop an interest in another. They see each other nearly every day and so they have the opportunity to get to know each other very well. That may cause feelings to develop and a coworker may decide to act on those feelings by asking another for a date. So does that count as sexual harassment? It depends on how the solicited coworker responds. If they accept, then it is clearly not harassment because harassment is unwanted behavior.
If the coworker rejects the interested party, then that is not necessarily harassment, at least if the date was requested in a respectful way. Where the behavior can become harassment is if the person keeps asking for a date even after their coworker has said no. That kind of persistent, unwanted behavior can be construed as harassment and the person instigating that behavior could get in trouble. It does not have to be that way if the two coworkers can work things out and the interested coworker backs off. If they do not, then their coworker is entitled to go through all the steps of the company’s sexual harassment procedures.
The Consequences of Dating in The Workplace
While a workplace romance is always a possibility, it is not always a good idea because there are many potential drawbacks for both people involved in the relationship. Those drawbacks increase in cases where a boss or superior is dating a subordinate.
- Loss of Productivity – If the coworkers spend too much time doting on each other, it could impact the amount of time that they spend on their work.
- Retaliation – If the relationship sours, then that could cause one, or both, of the coworkers to behave in a vindictive manner that could negatively affect the job performance of both individuals.
- Loss of Talent – In some cases, one of the employees will opt to leave the company in order to avoid accusations of impropriety. That could be a big loss if they are a valued employee.
- Accusations of Favoritism – If a boss is dating a subordinate, then they could be accused of favoring that employee even if said employee is otherwise deserving of merit.
Can A Company Ban Its Employees From Dating?
Considering all of the problems that can arise from a workplace relationship, it is understandable that some companies would want to forbid it. In some states, they are legally allowed to enact rules that forbid coworkers from dating. However, even with the legal standing to do so, it may not be a good idea because it can have a negative impact on employee morale and may be difficult to enforce as well. However, there are steps that a company can take to limit the potential problems that a workplace romance can cause:
- The company can forbid romantic relationships between supervisors and their subordinates. This can eliminate many legal and ethical issues and prevents accusations of favoritism.
- A company can prohibit employees in the same department from dating each other. This reduces the chance of lowered productivity from them spending too much time together. It also minimizes the risk of an awkward situation developing should the couple break up.
- The company can require that employees disclose any relationships so that they can take steps to address any potential problems. For example, the company could provide counseling on the impact of workplace romances or they could have the couple sign an agreement acknowledging that they will act professionally.
These steps help to reduce any potential problems for both the couple and the company for which they work.
Be Careful With Office Romances
Asking a coworker to go on a date is not necessarily harassment, at least not at first. If the coworker says no, then their decision should be respected and the interested person should back off. That rule applies within the office as well as out of it. If the situation escalates to the point where it becomes harassment, then the appropriate steps should be taken to de-escalate the situation. The employee should follow their company’s policy regarding sexual harassment but if that does not help, then legal action is always an option. So, if a persistent coworker refuses to take no for an answer, then you should retain a lawyer just in case.