Is it Harmless Flirting or Unwelcome Behavior?

Learning Minutes

In light of the #MeToo movement, an HR manager is wondering if what was once considered harmless flirting in her workplace is now a problem that needs to be addressed. How can she know? Find out in this week's Kantola Learning Minute with workplace trainer Linda Garrett, JD.

Hi, I'm Linda Garrett with a Kantola Learning Minute.

We had an interesting question from a viewer who says, "My customers like to come here because my staff is so friendly. I guess you could say it's the secret to my success in a town where I have got plenty of competition. I've always seen it as harmless flirting, but now, with all that you see in the news, I'm really starting to worry. What should I do? Please help."

Well, you know what, you're not alone. The #MeToo movement has a lot of people thinking. Let's approach this question by going back to the basics of sexual harassment law. The key to the definition of sexual harassment is whether the behavior is unwelcome. If friendly banter is something your employees enjoy, and chatting with your customers is something they're happy to do, it probably isn't a problem. The EEOC guidelines would tell us that flirtatious behavior that is not welcome, not asked for, or not reciprocated, would cross the line, and if that is what you think is happening, then yes, it should give you cause to worry. You can certainly check in with your staff and ask them directly how they feel about the customers and their behavior, and if it is clearly not a problem just be sure to continually monitor it.

You know, I'd also suggest that you include realistic examples reflecting your particular workplace, and experiences staff may have at work, when you do your next training so that staff will feel empowered to speak up. If there is a problem, you will need to take steps to help your staff step back from the conversations that they're not comfortable with, and to make sure they know their job is still secure and that you will protect them from inappropriate behavior.

I hope this helps. Thanks for listing.

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