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The line between flirting and harassment at work

Photo by Climate KIC on Unsplash

I find myself fascinated by a story in The Seattle Times today entitled: “What flirting is OK?: Men ponder, alter their behaviors after flood of harassment claims.”

This article resonated with me. Not necessarily because I want to flirt at work all day, but because I can think of at least five marriages that happened between couples that met here at the radio station. I’m assuming that they all began with flirting at work.

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I have always subscribed to the “don’t date someone from the office” mantra, but obviously not everyone does.

The thrust of the article is that many men are now wondering if they inadvertently used a position of power during their career to cause a female co-worker to feel harassed?

The solution seems to be to over correct the other way. Companies are canceling Friday night holiday parties and invoking the Mike Pence rule. You know, the rule we all made fun of. Pence will not go to a meal or a meeting when it’s just him and a woman that is not his wife. What seemed quaint and outdated is now back in vogue.

So what do you do when you are a single person and you feel a connection with someone at work? It really is a unique setting. You get to see people use their education and experience to perform impressive things. Isn’t it natural to think, “Wow, that person just rocked this (blank).” Fill in the blank with a sales call, budget meeting, or important project. You get to see a part of someone that is impossible to see in a bar or on a dating app. Then you might find yourself thinking, “I wonder if there might be some dating potential here?”

Are people just going to shut this down now in the wake of Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. sexual harassment controversies? I don’t think so.

It seems to me that what those men did is extreme by any measure. Those violations are clearly recognizable. It’s the more subtle things that now seem suspect.

If a man has an extra ticket to the game or the concert, can he ask a woman from work? What if the roles are reversed and the woman is the one with the ticket? Does it matter if it’s a supervisor/subordinate relationship? What if he or she would genuinely like to go? How can you tell? Is that harassment or an abuse of power or just two people that might date in the future?

I think the thing that is the most difficult about all this is that you can’t really choose who you are attracted to. When you cross paths with another person and the fireworks start to go off, you can’t really control that process. In my experience, it’s a rare occurrence. When it does happen, you want it to continue happening. The fact that you happen to be co-workers seems to be a minor footnote in the story.

So maybe #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein have provided us with what the worse case scenario looks like. But at the other extreme are many happy marriages and families of couples that met at work. We’ve all been to sexual harassment training, maybe there should also be “what to do when you work with your crush” training?

Is there an app for that?

You can hear “What are we talking about here?” everyday at 4:45 p.m. on 97.3 FM.

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