Flirting in the workplace is a hot topic right now. As the pendulum swings from the abusive sexist environments from decades past, many fear that it might swing too far the other way. The most echoed statement when the topic comes up is “Where is the line now?”
With the rise of the #MeToo movement and powerful men such as Matt Lauer and children’s book author Sherman Alexie standing accused of sexual harassment, there is no better time to consider that question. Taking into account all of the various ways people interact, nearly everyone has flirted with a co-worker at some point. However, if you have questions about the line, consider the following list of clearly harassing actions.
Take the high five, for example. Not everyone enjoys giving or receiving a high five, but the choice to high five is implicit. If someone does not want a high five, they will not raise their hand. Apply high five logic to any interaction in which physical contact is made, and if there is even the slightest chance that the contact is unwanted, then do not do it.
Everyone has their own style of speaking based on their personal experiences and perspective; it is the content of what you say that can cause problems. Using overtly aggressive language in regards to peoples looks or background or qualifications, are emotionally harmful. If the words are harmful it cannot then be said to be harmless flirting. Thus overt insulting and angry language is a definite sign of harassment.
Some people possess a raunchy sense of humor. Ribaldry, however, has little place in a professional working environment. Yes, there is some leeway given when people become familiar with one another, but real friends have had at least one conversation on joke boundaries. If you have not had a similar conversation with someone, then it is not appropriate to tell a raunchy joke to or about them.
Finding the line
In general, it was perhaps summed up the best in an article from the Independent: “If you don’t know the difference between flirting and sexual harassment, you’re definitely flirting wrong.”