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What DOES NOT Constitute Harassment

What DOES NOT Constitute Harassment

Hello everyone!

Harassment in the workplace has been an incredibly hot topic recently. There are plenty of resources, including Not in Our Space, that address how to handle harassment complaints, conduct an investigation, and outline what your obligations are. If you’ve received a harassment complaint you may be unsure how to proceed. Have no fear! This blog post is meant to help you determine what DOES NOT constitute harassment. Being able to determine what does not constitute harassment will help you make a decision about what to do next!

First, actions do not constitute harassment if they arise out of a relationship of mutual consent. Respectful workplace banter, interactions and behaviors that are considered the norm, such as respectful compliments on someone’s outfit would not constitute harassment unless there is a power imbalance. If one of the employees decides out of the blue that they no longer want to interact that way they need to make their wishes clear.

Take for example the following situation:

An employee comes forward and claims that another employee harassed them by poking fun at them in front of other staff. You’ve witnessed the normal interactions of these employees in the past and know they are both friends and usually engage in witty banter between themselves. After looking into the matter, you find out that the two co-workers have had a personal disagreement outside work and so one employee no longer wanted to chit chat, but hadn’t made that clear to the other employee. After reviewing the details and determining harassment had not occurred you could consider a mediation meeting between the two employees to determine expectations moving forward and to prevent any escalation.

Another scenario that does not constitute harassment is performance management. Employees may not be happy with a performance review and claim that their supervisor is harassing or bullying  them. However, if the supervisor is treating everyone the same way with regard to reviewing work, or has good cause to review more of a specific employee’s work, then this is simply performance management and does not constitute harassment. However, the supervisor must still be reasonable and respectful of workplace rules, policies, and procedures, and use respectful language. They should also not be discriminating against the employee.

Here is a brief list of examples of the type of behaviors that on their own would not be considered harassment but a company could still address:

  • An employee’s constant chit chatting – this could be a distraction for their co-workers.
  • Personality conflicts within the office – for example complaints about negative attitudes or behavior which do not in and of themselves constitute harassment can contribute to an unpleasant work environment. This might be a signal to speak to team members one on one.
  • Microaggressions – such as a male employee constantly interrupting female colleagues in meeting(s)

Here is an interesting article that further expands on this discussion: When Harassment is Not Harassment.

You can read more about what DOES NOT constitute harassment on our member forum.

Until next time!

Alicia Cachia
HR Specialist

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