SEX IN THE WORKPLACE – Recently in the news was an Iowa case involving a dental assistant who was fired because the dentist found her “irresistible.” If you are not familiar with the story, let me re-cap it for you. After more than 10 years of employment Melissa Nelson has found herself unemployed simply because her boss, Dr. James Knight, stated that he was attracted to her and for the sake of his marriage must let her go. She left with a severance package consisting of one month’s salary, later decided to take the issue to court, where it was thrown out before it was heard. She appealed to the Iowa’s Supreme Court and they too agreed, that it was within her boss’ right to let her go.
I know that many of you have snickered over this story, looked at the pictures of Melissa and James to critique their appearance and have judged him to either be a “hero” for marriage or a “loser” for chickening out on what may have been a golden opportunity.
Let’s face one important fact. Men and women can be friends. My husband disagrees with me on this, probably because he is a man, but nonetheless, he is adamant that no man can be in a friendly relationship with a woman and that it will turn sexual even if you are not attracted to each other. I disagree with him.
I am not so naive to believe that two people can spend time together day after day and not at some point feel an attraction. My point is, when that happens it is decision-time concerning what you are going to do about it. This is a turning point and you can either ruin the relationship by acting on your emotions and dealing with the consequences later, or you can address the situation and openly talk about it. Embarrassing, but if you value yourself and the other person, this is the only answer. If it involves a friend, then you probably talk about everything else so why should you allow this to be any different?
What if it happens at work? How should it be handled and and how can it be handled so that personal integrity remains intact and no one gets hurt. Is that even possible? There have been jokes and stories about the boss and his secretary for years and then there are the ones about the office temps or the mail clerk. We’ve all heard them and maybe we have our own story to tell.
Laws about proper behavior have been implemented and continue to be challenged and changed as society decides what is or is not acceptable. Currently the definitions are as follows:
Sexual Misconduct includes unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct that is unprofessional or inappropriate for the office or classroom.
Sexual Harassment is defined as a forced submission using coercion of employment or student status and submission or rejection of such contact affects the individual’s performance or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive environment.
“Sexual self-restraint is only a preliminary stage in the ego’s revolution.” Muhammad Iqbal
In the workplace, many businesses have set guidelines and policies that must be followed upon the risk of termination. In these policies there can be found dress codes, language restrictions, Public Display of Affection(PDA) bans and any other circumstance that may contribute or lead to improper sexual conduct.
It wasn’t that long ago that many head positions in a business were held only by men. Those women who worked hard to pave the way for the rest of us sacrificed much. They were paid less, worked longer, were passed up for promotions and frustrated as they waited for the gender gap to close. They were propositioned and promised that they would be taken seriously if they would just “spend a little extra time at the office.”
It’s not just the ladies who experience this either. The cliche’ of the housewife holding the pool boy or the landscaper captive and in fear of losing their job cannot compete with today’s women. Now that more women are holding positions of leadership, they have been found to be just as manipulative and abusive as the men.
How can you tell if it is misconduct or immature behavior? First, trust your gut. If it makes you feel uncomfortable or dirty, it was inappropriate. If there is any suggestion that your job may be at risk, it was inappropriate. It doesn’t matter if it was made by a co-worker or a supervisor, it should not have been said or done.
What can you do? Report it to the Human Resource Department. If there is none where you work, then seek out someone in authority higher up than the one you have a complaint against. Above all, do not talk about this in a callous or disrespectful way with other co-workers. If you are seeking validation that you are not being singled out, do it discreetly. If the problem is not addressed within the company, you may need to seek out an attorney.
How do you handle it when you are amused by the advances made by a co-worker or your boss? First, if they are married you should have a “hands off” policy. If they are single, it could be their way of telling you they are interested in developing a relationship outside of work. There is nothing wrong with this as long as it is mutual and at some point you make it known to your bosses. Many people do find love at work and wind up married or in committed relationships.
Keep work and love separate. When you are at work, work. Don’t take to meeting at the water cooler or running out to the parking lot during lunch. Gossip won’t do your reputation any good and can keep you from advancing in the company.
We should all be able to work hard and in a safe, respectful environment. We should expect to be rewarded with more responsibility and pay when we prove ourselves worthy and up to the task. Sexual misconduct is used to control or demean others and should have no place in our lives, but especially in the workplace. Unfortunately, it is still found in comedy acts and movies which continue to display it as humorous and acceptable. Reform cannot be successful until attitudes surrounding it are changed.