How to Avoid Being Accused of Sexual Harassment

Even if you believe that you treat all of your co-workers with respect, we currently have an epidemic of sexual harassment in the American workplace that requires heightened awareness, advanced skills for working with the opposite sex, and an abundance of caution.

“I would advise tech professionals to be extra careful about what they say or do to avoid being accused of sexual harassment in the post-Weinstein climate,” advised Kelly Armstrong, senior partner with The Armstrong Law Firm.

According to a recent study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is pervasive. Four in ten women report enduring unwanted advances in a work environment (Uber is a prime example of a workplace gone awry in this regard), which could include everything from a come-on to a gendered insult to sexual assault.

Everyone in America knows that ignorance of the law is no excuse (in case you need a refresher on sexual harassment, here is a brief overview). But just to be sure, here are some prudent ways to avoid being accused of sexual harassment and potentially damaging your career.

Don’t Mix Your Personal and Professional Lives

Dating a subordinate is not only asking for trouble—most companies prohibit the practice outright. But even if your company allows fraternization between “equal level” employees, dating a co-worker probably isn’t a good idea. Things could get dicey if you break up, and most people flirt to test the waters—which could be construed as an unwanted advance.

“Keep things purely professional,” Armstrong recommended. “Avoid acting in a way that suggests that you might be attracted to a subordinate or co-worker.”

Recognize and Tame Subconscious Bias

Sexual harassment isn’t limited to unwanted or annoying advances, explained Patti Perez, an expert on harassment and VP of workplace strategy for Emtrain. Sometimes, people commit sexual harassment without even knowing it.

For instance, calling a female colleague “honey,” “babe” or another pet name can lead to trouble. So can making negative comments about a co-worker’s gender, especially when describing their technical abilities or work product. Staring in a lustful way at an attractive co-worker or making a facial expression is also taboo.

In addition, don’t remark about a co-worker’s appearance or figure to your teammates, or brag about your social life or dating habits. Demeaning others can create a hostile environment, make your co-workers uncomfortable and damage your reputation.

“People who are accused of sexual harassment often act in a way that is boorish or immature,” Perez noted. “Research shows that people who act like a stereotypical frat boy in the workplace don’t get much leeway if they accidently say the wrong thing or curse.”

To avoid being accused of sexual harassment, treat everyone equally and avoid comments that refer to age, appearance or gender.

Mind your P’s and Q’s at Company Events

Armstrong says that, given the current environment, tech pros should steer clear of team-building events, software release celebrations and after-work happy hours.

Of course, avoiding company events altogether can damage your career, as well. As a rule of thumb, limit your alcohol intake, don’t stay too long, and only attend company-sponsored activities, meet-ups or business lunches. To avoid sending mixed messages, limit your physical contact in the workplace to a professional handshake.

Compliment Work, Not Physical Appearance

Recognizing your co-workers for good work is definitely okay, but complimenting a co-worker’s physical appearance, especially if it’s done in a suggestive way, could be construed as sexual harassment. If you’re building a bond with teammates, you’re better off discussing the latest open-source tool, the local sports team, or a new restaurant.

Learning how to work with co-workers without risking a sexual-harassment accusation doesn’t have to be hard. As Perez noted: “It just requires emotional intelligence and new and better ways of expressing yourself.”

Comments

32 Responses to “How to Avoid Being Accused of Sexual Harassment”

November 28, 2017 at 12:20 pm, RobS said:

This is just insanity. Why do we need to avoid team building events simply because the world is so uptight?
Btw there is no unconscious bias, unless you speak in your sleep. It shoukd subconscious bias.

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November 30, 2017 at 6:19 am, Joe said:

“Four in ten women report enduring unwanted advances in a work environment…..”
Male.
Bovine.
Excrement.
Are you talking about Hollyweird and Congress Leslie? If some male schmuck tries anything in today’s corporation with its hordes of feminists in HR, he’s gone in a heartbeat. Your “stat” is fake news.

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November 30, 2017 at 6:31 am, Anon said:

Unconscious has two meanings. There is such thing as an Unconscious mind, and it’s not the same thing as sleeping or simply being unconscious. Read about psychology, and you’ll figure it out. I’m actually surprised the figure is as low as 4 out of 10. Tons of “innocent” sexist remark, jokes, and physical contact goes unreported.
Source: I’m a woman in tech.

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November 30, 2017 at 6:51 am, Gabriel Archer said:

Sexual harassment is a catch 22 in the work place. I get called honey all the time at work by women and nobody says a thing. If I do it, HR will be all me in a heartbeat.

Right now it seems like only men are capable of doing it and if women do it, well that’s OK.

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November 30, 2017 at 8:05 am, Dexel Sequeira said:

Agree to most part of the article. Relatable for someone who’s been in the midst of something similar not so long ago.

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November 30, 2017 at 8:13 am, Michael C said:

The stats are real and I have been thru it. Some years back I was at a company function and temp secretary overheard a phone conversation between my then wife and myself (we were in the middle of a divorce). She filed a sexual harassment suit against me. After that failed, she filed it against me, the company and the other 33 salesmen that worked there. It took me an attorney and a lot of money to get this thing kicked out of court and to go away. It is all in what you say, how you say it and to whom you say it to. People perceive you are saying as if it is being directed to them. My advice is to walk a straight and narrow path as it could save your job and career.

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November 30, 2017 at 8:16 am, Lady said:

How about this dumb men. Just be professional, you know go to work; do your job, then go home to your wifey and kids…
But that’s to simple. Men are complete dumbasses because women have to write articles like this yet they still don’t get it.
I also love how the men who commit on this article are calling the article stupid. No your species is stupid. Us women have to treat you like the child you all are. smh and wtf is wrong with men.

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November 30, 2017 at 8:17 am, Lady said:

How about this dumb men. Just be professional, you know go to work; do your job, then go home to your wifey and kids…
But that’s to simple. Men are complete dumbasses because women have to write articles like this yet they still don’t get it.
I also love how the men who commit on this article are calling the article stupid. Us women have to treat you like the child you all are. smh and wtf is wrong with men.

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November 30, 2017 at 8:53 am, Dude said:

Oh Lady… How I wish you worked with me and said such things within earshot… I’d have you dragged to HR faster than you could say, “I’m a hypocritical moron with Daddy issues!”

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November 30, 2017 at 8:25 am, M. Edwards said:

This is another way to separate people, they separate by inviting millions of immigrants that create problems (not only the ones required, which are mostly fine), they separate by ideologies (left-right, up-down, name it), and also they separate by gender (women vs men). Well done, elites, paving the way to native population reduction in western countries at the expenses of steadily growth of alien cultures with medieval ages values. This happens in USA, in Europe, in Australia and in any single country regarded as western.

On the topic, still there are some guys trying to leep on the pull at work, but this is an exceptional problem, the problem is what is pointed in the article: you might behave normal but due to the politically corect feminazism, you might end up charged for rape when just being normal…

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November 30, 2017 at 8:57 am, Russ D'Arensbourg said:

It’s really not that difficult. I’ve worked in IT for over 10 years, and in sales 10 years before that. I’ve never had a problem with sexual impropriety.
If you are attracted to someone at work, ask them out. Don’t show them some part of your anatomy, or corner them in the mail room. Just say, hey, do you want to get drinks sometime after work, just us two? This is direct and to the point. It’s not sexual harassment. It’s a request for social contact outside of work.
Your co-worker can say no. They can agree, and keep it to drinking buddies, or go farther. Bit this is how adults behave.
Otherwise, treat the men and women at your job as if they were siblings. You wouldn’t grab your sisters behind would you?

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November 30, 2017 at 9:26 am, Male Human said:

For those of us who have the audacity to commit the heinous crime of working while male, the modern workplace has become a hostile environment.

If you are male, a single false accusation and destroy your career, and your life. No proof required. It is guilty until proven innocent.

Even if you can prove your innocence. because you are male, your guilt will continue to be assumed.

It will forever be a stain that you cannot wash away, and it will follow you around; reducing your earning capacity; for the rest of your life.

It doesn’t matter that “not all women are like that,” because it takes only one unscrupulous women, who is willing to make a false accusation (for whatever the reason), to destroy your career, and probably your life.

I have seen enough men, who have had their careers and lives permanently damaged by verifiability false accusations of sexual misconduct to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is not enough to simply act politely and professionally. What I say here, is not hyperbole.

…and with the modern socio-political narrative that says “women are wonderful, and men are worthless,” as a male, your word, and your suffering mean less than nothing.

There is no foolproof way to avoid the accusation, but you can minimize your risk of it, by limiting your contact with female co-workers, avoiding discussions about your personal life, and strictly limiting conversion to work only topics..

In essence, do not date or have relationships with co-workers, do not “flirt,” with them, and never be alone with a female co-worker.

If you cannot avoid being alone with a member of the opposite sex, always be recording, so you have proof of your innocence.

If you are male, and you can so,it is in your best interests to avoid the corporate work environment like the plague.

If you can, work telecommute only positions, or work freelance.

Even then, though, you should limit contact with people you deal with professionally, when they are members of the opposite sex.

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November 30, 2017 at 10:06 am, Laura Keating said:

Take a look at what men are accused of. Pressuring women (or men) to have sex, boorish obscene behavior, making crude comments or displaying crude images.

Is it really that hard to just not do that? I’m the mother of 3 adult boys and have no worries that they will ever be the subject of sexual harassment claims. They aren’t perfect, but they are boors.

40 years in IT, and I’ve seen few boors and no false accusations. Just don’t be a jerk.

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November 30, 2017 at 1:20 pm, John said:

If it were only that simple, it would be easy. I completely agree with you that men should treat women with respect and dignity, just as women should treat men the same. Neither men or women should make any sexual advances in the work place or crude comments. But, unfortunately I don’t think it’s that simple anymore. I’m afraid we are now heading toward a culture (or we’re already there), where almost anything can be viewed as sexual harassment, even a casual, friendly smile taken the wrong way. I suppose the best way to avoid being accused is just to be a bit rude and avoid eye contact all together. The way things are now, I’m even afraid to give a woman a sincere compliment anymore, and I’m afraid we’re living in a society now where if you get angry with someone or don’t like someone, just accuse them of improper sexual behavior 10, 15, 20 years ago and get them fired and ruin their reputation. It’s a scary new world.

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November 30, 2017 at 10:20 am, BGM said:

Unfortunately, the only way to protect yourself from false charges of sexual harassment is to not hire women. Don’t laugh. The risk of being accused is just too great. Doing everything the article suggests doesn’t protect you against false accusations and you will NEVER be able to disprove them. Your career will be destroyed without recourse. Otherwise I’d follow Billy Graham’s advice: Don’t ever be alone with a woman and always have the office door open .if you MUST be alone with one.

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November 30, 2017 at 10:53 am, You Are Disgusting said:

Wow how very sexist of you. Your mother must be so proud. Gross!

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November 30, 2017 at 12:41 pm, BGM said:

And falsely accused Duke lacrosse player’s would find your attitude inspiring also.

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November 30, 2017 at 10:41 am, politically incorrect redneck said:

Simple: Don’t hire women in the first place.They are usually looking for easy money. Most will wear provocative clothing in the workplace to entice remarks. They know what they’re doing.Sexual attraction is natural. Don’t try to make it illegal.

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November 30, 2017 at 11:23 am, Ha! said:

lol In my experience women work twice as hard as men. If you don’t hire women, who will be there to hold your hand and walk you through your job on a daily basis? My company would crumble without the women that keep it going. The men that work here are more like man children that have everything handed to them on a silver platter.

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November 30, 2017 at 11:04 am, Reasonable Enough said:

Instead of “How to Avoid Being Accused of Sexual Harassment”, why not “How to Not Sexually Harass people”? Treat women like equal peers, with respect, don’t treat them like objects, and don’t touch them because there’s absolutely no reason to. The “false accusations” narrative is unwarranted and unnecessarily misdirects the discussion to an issue that is not at all widespread. Just be a decent human. Simple as that.

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November 30, 2017 at 11:25 am, Bossy said:

Sitting here patiently waiting for a list of all the women who have gained something from reporting sexual assault. I’ll wait.

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December 01, 2017 at 6:29 pm, Su Hall said:

Men are scared they will be accused by some woman of sexual harassment??
If you think that’s scary, try going somewhere while numerous men stop you, honk, whistle, holler, extend invites, offer rides, etc. It happens at work, at home, in public, on the street, any where! If I ignore them, then, I am a “BITCH!”
It scares the hell out of me! It is humiliating and embarrassing! No one should have to be subjected to that kind of abuse, ever! I wear and hoodie and cover my hair to hide the fact that I am a woman, most of the time! It feels safer, whether it is or not.
Any action that puts fear in another person is, to me, the most wrong thing anyone can do to another! Fear is crippling.
Why don’t we just all agree to act like adults?

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December 02, 2017 at 11:59 am, Bgm said:

That’s sad Su, and is related to the the bigger problem. Women used to be cherished and this sort of behavior was strongly oppsed by 99% of men. But men and women never heard each other use the f-word, or casually talked about intimate topics, or listened on the nightly news about the President getting….pleasured in the Oval Office. Women didn’t wear clothing that allows obe to count the change in their pockets or that exposes their backsides all the time. What you are experiencing is the result of the coarsening of America and the destruction of mores that protected women AND men. So you have my compassion, but also need to join the rest if us in some soul searching.

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November 30, 2017 at 11:39 am, It's time for a change said:

I’ve worked in SAP consulting since 1994 and visited more than 100 companies. What women have to put up with at the vast majority of these projects and workplaces is horrible. Consulting needs to change. It’s a boys’ club, where many consultants think they can talk about strip clubs and the last coworker they found attractive, all in front of other women. I’ve had to talk to subordinates, coworkers, and project managers about their harassment, gender bias, homophobia, and racism.

To the men saying the answer is to not hire women… the answer is to grow up and treat everyone fairly and with respect.

Articles like this one are the barest start. We need a lot of education and improvement in this area. Women, I’m sorry for all you deal with. I’m with you in hoping for a better future. Men, we have to own the problems in our workplaces and speak up when we see problems. Over time we can make this a better situation for everyone.

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November 30, 2017 at 11:44 am, Sarah said:

As a woman who has worked in tech for a couple decades, this has been a long time coming. Many men are decent, sometimes they say something insensitive out of ignorance, I don’t hold it against them. But, men need to stop being ignorant. I was stalked in my first IT job (I was 18 years old). I have had inappropriate comments made about my body on multiple occasions. The truth is that every woman has a close friend or relative that has been a victim of sexual assault, if they are not one themselves. As a result, we are on the constant defensive. A professional environment should be a safe place, but isn’t always. If the good men out there, and there are many, just looked at the world from our point of view, they would act differently. I shouldn’t have to worry about being cat-called while picking up a prescription for my kids, while wearing sweats, but that happened the other day. Be aware that every woman around you has a story of harassment, and show empathy for that point of view, and the “false” accusations will go away. Then the true scum can be weeded out.

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November 30, 2017 at 12:47 pm, Dan Meier said:

Folks seem to be polarizing to opposite corners on these posts. But we really all want the same thing: to be respected. However, each of us has a different definition for precisely what that means, and that leads to LOTS of confusion.

I’ve found two surefire solutions to this. The first is both the easiest and the hardest – it’s simply the Golden Rule: treat others as you want – expect – to be treated. (Welcome a comment about your tight pants? No. Want some random person to grab your ass? No! Want a well-deserved promotion to be conditional on having sex with your boss? NO!)

The second is more difficult: clearly and respectfully communicate your boundaries when there’s a mismatch in how respect in a relationship is understood. We have the responsibility to respect others’ boundaries, whether or not we agree with them. So clearly and respectfully stating our own expectations can become a simple training exercise to get everyone on the same page again.

We really do all want the same level of respect in the end. But to get it, we need to give it.

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November 30, 2017 at 12:53 pm, Greg Shemlyn said:

I can’t wait till they perfect those sex robots. Then we’ll have no reason to even look at women!

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November 30, 2017 at 1:45 pm, Kevin S said:

Whether Male or Female one must be cautious simply because of perception and experience. If a man/woman has been in one or more negative experiences it influences their opinion of every future event. When you communicate with someone who has been harrassed you will observe they are highly sensitive, and in some cases, things are taken out of context as they observe or hear things differently. Past experiences seem to influence individuals that have been hurt.

You can minimize the chance by simply being cautious and keep professionalism in mind. Public working relationships are the same. Don’t say something aloud that may be offensive unless in your own home. You have the right to say and express yourself there. When in public be mindful that “Politically Correct” has deemed what is right. I don’t like the term “Politically Correct” as it is not the same as what just should be “Correct!”

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November 30, 2017 at 4:28 pm, Guy who's been on the receiving end said:

As a male, I agree that men should learn to legitimately treat woman with respect at all times and, if they do, the whole issue will eventually resolve itself. (I know – pie in the sky.) That said, I actually read this article because I do find myself thinking that it’s not entirely impossible that I somehow might be caught up in today’s political climate and find myself on the wrong end of a false accusation. Thanks largely to the fact that SOME men are jerks and SOME women (I’m sure a much lower number) take advantage of the socially charged situation to either extract revenge or somehow benefit from a false report, I find myself walking on eggshells around female coworkers. I’ve stopped even acknowledging woman I don’t know when I pass them in the hallways for fear that they might misinterpret a friendly greeting for an unwelcome come-on. And I think that’s just sad considering that we are already so socially separated from each other, hidden behind our computer screens (just read some of these comments if you need an example – most people would never talk like that to someone in person.)

And just to add another perspective that I haven’t seen mentioned here, woman can also be guilty of sexual harassment. I know because I’ve been on the receiving end. Several years ago I caught the attention of young female co-worker who was completely inappropriate with me. She would say inappropriate things and touch me suggestively. We were both in relationships and I was not interested in her at all but I felt awkward being a male complaining about an attractive woman showing me attention. It wasn’t until one day when I was having a bad day already and she decided it was a good idea for her to give me a shoulder rub at my desk that I had enough and made it clear that I was not interested. She seemed shocked that I would make a stink about her completely out-of-line behavior. But I went immediately to my manager to report what had happened because I didn’t want to be accused of harassing her! I know this isn’t nearly as common as a male harassing a female but it does happen.

Bottom line, be professional at work. Act like an adult. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

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November 30, 2017 at 4:51 pm, Johnny Doe said:

Respect women.
Go to strip clubs when you get frustrated.
Ask for several hundred dollars or that Christmas bonus and go to a Cathouse (brothel)
If you begin to like someone at work, apply to a different company and come back and ask her out.
Instead of your secretary getting you coffee one day, get her coffee instead.
or just work at home and away from other workers if it bothers you that much.

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November 30, 2017 at 6:06 pm, Endi said:

This is so stupid, “How to Avoid Being Accused of Sexual Harassment” , really? It’s obvious!!!…Instead of avoid being accused it should be…DON’T sexual harass anyone!!!

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December 07, 2017 at 11:26 am, Mark said:

Keep your working relationships professional!

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