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Office Conduct Regarding Sexual Harassment

(November 18, 2009) If You Have to Ask, It's Offensive

On the job, most us strive to find some balance between professional and personable behavior. On one hand, you have friends in the office and no one wants to spend the day in silence, in front of his or her computer. However, on the other hand, there are certain rules -- spoken and unspoken -- that guide conduct in the office.

This is a line that is often crossed inadvertently in cases of sexual harassment. Though it can be malicious, many times, harassment is the result of an inappropriate joke which did not have the desired effect, or teasing which was not received as expected.

The best guideline for office behavior is to play it safe. If there's a chance someone could be offended, save it for a situation where you know your audience. At the very least, the office is not the correct place to test out risque subject matter and behavior.

Jokes, stories, pictures and comments shared between coworkers don't always come back to bite the offender. The plaintiff in sexual harassment cases can also be bruised by damaging material uncovered during the course of an investigation.

This was the case in Pennsylvania's Seybert v. International Group Inc, where a sexual harassment plaintiff found herself facing content from her own work inbox.

In October a federal judge denied a request by the plaintiff's lawyers asking that e-mails taken from her computer be made off limits to the defense. The e-mails, some of which contain sexual content, will be used to help determine whether or not Seybert would have actually been offended by her superior's conduct.

In her defense, context will be taken into account. E-mails shared between friends and unwanted, offensive comments made before others are surely not the same thing.

Still, if the e-mails in question contained similar humor and language to the alleged harassment, the defense might have a more solid case. They could argue that, while the context was inappropriate, the conduct itself should not have been shocking, given past conduct by the plaintiff.

Remember the line that goes, "if you have to ask, it's too expensive?"

Well, in cases of workplace conduct -- if you have to ask, it's too offensive.

It's not a matter of censoring your sense of humor or disposition. Rather, it's matter of recognizing the times when it is inappropriate to fully indulge your inclinations. If you are the victim of such behavior, take a look at your own actions and make sure that you are exercising caution, even with friends.

If you don't, you may find your own words and actions come back to haunt you.

Article provided by Navarette Law Firm

Colleen Gildea

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