Flirting in the Workplace: It’s All Fun & Games Until Someone Loses Their Job (Unless You’re Tom Brady!)
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By J.T. O’Donnell
I saw this video years ago and laughed. But as an HR person, it troubled me too. You see, this video is spot on. Hot people often don’t get their advances on-the-job viewed as harassment, while less-attractive people do. In fact, there are plenty of studies that show good looking people get paid more and climb the ladder easier than those that aren’t.
Beyond that, here’s what concerns me…
Young people who are ‘hot’ in their early career and subsequently develop flirting habits they use to get ahead in the workplace could mindlessly carry this approach over later in their career when they are ‘not-so-hot’ and in positions of influence – and then, all of a sudden, it gets viewed as harassment. Perhaps, people see it as harmless in the early career years. Let’s face it, young workers often don’t have much to think about besides work and sex (yep, I said it). But, as we age in the workplace, there is an expectation of maturity – and there is often a lot more at stake.
Honestly, I have worked with clients who were accused and fired for sexual harassment. The HR laws are very protective of the person who feels they’ve been harassed. So, companies will often air on the side of caution and let the accused go to avoid a lawsuit. Some of these people are guilty. As we talk through the situation they come to realize how they were being perceived. Yet, at the time, they honestly didn’t see how what they were doing/saying was making the accuser uncomfortable to the point of harassment. However, I must also tell you that some were definitely encouraged into this behavior. They tell me story after story of how other people in the office were doing the same thing but weren’t accused. Meanwhile, they got caught and it cost them their families, their jobs and their self-esteem. You should know that many of them are not prosecuted. So, while they don’t have a criminal record, they still have to explain why they were let go from a great job with a great firm for sexual harassment – not an easy thing to do. It makes it tough to get re-hired.
Thus, as funny as the video of Tom Brady walking through the office in his underwear is, I hope you’ll consider the following: Be careful when flirting in the workplace. While you are in control of your actions, you aren’t in control of how your actions are being interpreted by others. I’m not saying you can’t be friendly with co-workers and may even end up dating someone special (although, please check your company’s dating policy first). In fact, I know of lots of wonderful work relationships that have turned into marriage. You are with these people for a 1/3rd or more of your day, so it stands to reason that you might find a love connection. I’m just saying that thinking you can say the same things to co-workers that you say when you are out at a bar trying to meet potential dates is not a good idea. And ladies, I’m not just talking to the guys here. Women are now a major force in the workplace. So, guess what? I’m seeing more harassment claims by men against women.
To sum it up, there is a very blunt phrase that states, “Don’t ___ where you eat.” Be sure to contemplate the implications of flirting/dating in the workplace. Beyond sexual harassment, there are lots of reasons why it might make sense not to engage in this behavior as it relates to your professional reputation.
HR folks – can you add more? Employees, what do you think? Share your thoughts below.