Why to Avoid Flirting in the Workplace by Rich Milgram

Some say office flirting is innocent and just a natural way to be nice to people and to enjoy the fun of being with others. However, what may be flirting to one person could be sexual harassment to another person. It's a fine line and there are no universal laws about flirting in the workplace. Therefore, it is up to individuals to gauge what is appropriate and what is not and hopefully there is an office sexual harassment policy in place to help provide some guidance along the way. To avoid overstepping boundaries in the workplace, here are a few simple tips employees should follow:

• Observe other colleagues to discover the unspoken etiquette in your workplace.
• Limit public displays of affection.
• Treat everyone in the office the same way.
• Utilize group dynamics to avoid uncertainty.
• Maintain a wardrobe that projects a professional image.
• Strive to keep flattering remarks work-related rather than personal.
• Be aware of your office's sexual harassment policy.

Reporting Bad Behavior

If an employee witnesses flirting or another situation in the workplace that they are uncomfortable with, it is best to speak up about it. One of the easiest ways to handle a situation is to discuss the matter directly with the involved colleagues. It is always best to approach them privately and let them know that their actions are not appropriate or appreciated. Explain why their behavior is disturbing or offensive and politely ask them to stop. If the offended employee is not comfortable discussing the matter with the colleagues in person, they should take their complaint directly to their leader.

It is best to document the situation and provide as much detail as possible. This approach is more complex, and therefore has harsher consequences, which often times involves getting the HR department involved to handle the situation. Usually the investigation ends with some form of discipline for the offending parties and could even result in dismissal from the company if the behavior continues. An office sexual harassment policy should include the necessary steps for reporting bad behavior.

Preventative Measures Employers Can Take

It is important for companies to have a clear sexual harassment policy in place to help guide employees and allow them to make their best judgment. Employers should communicate this policy upon hiring each new employee and hold company meetings annually to reinforce the policy. Here are some steps companies should take into consideration regarding their sexual harassment policy:

• Research the law. Employers should consult their legal counsel to make sure that all state laws regarding sexual harassment are included in the policy.
• Inform employees about the policy. Once the policy is in writing, make sure all your employees know about it and make sure to review and update it from time to time.
• Educate employees. Offer sexual training seminars to further explain and reiterate the information in the sexual harassment policy. Allow employees to ask questions so they can better understand what is inappropriate and how to report it if a situation occurs.
• Follow the same rules. It is important that everyone follow the same rules, regardless of level or position in the company, otherwise the policy will not be taken seriously.

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