Sexual Harassment and the Law

Sexual Harassment in the workplace has been against the law in America for more than fifty years. In Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Congress enacted the following language. “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Of course, passing a law isn’t going to stop discrimination. We have so many laws in America that many of them are just viewed as mere suggestions. If passing legislation really changed behavior we would not have an opioid epidemic in this country right now.

Sexual Harassment Not Mentioned Per Se

Look at the language of the statute. It says nothing at all about sexual harassment. That is the problem with legislation. By the time a bill goes through the committee it gets amended and changed and in order to get the necessary votes for passage, it goes to the floor in a watered-down fashion.

It took the judges of the Federal Courts to decide what was and was not sexual harassment under the law.

And, therein lies the problem. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be the minimum standard when it comes to sexual harassment. No person should be subject to any form of inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature whether or not it is against the law.

What Are The Standards?

What is inappropriate behavior? That is where this question gets tricky. I am not speaking about the law here. I am speaking about accepted behavior between two people. There are some great resources about what is or is not sexual harassment.

Appropriate behavior is going to have different standards in and out of the workplace. Behavior that may be acceptable on a Saturday night at your favorite club is not necessarily going to be appropriate at work.

Interestingly enough, it is not necessarily the place where the sexual harassment takes place as it is the relationship between the two parties. Workplace sexual harassment is different than simply being inappropriate. Grabbing a stranger’s buttocks during a photo op is inappropriate no matter what the setting. In fact it may be a criminal act in some states.

The Law Is the Minimum Standard

The law, though, should not be the guiding principle in how we treat one another. It really is the minimum standard. Clearly groping an employee is not acceptable behavior. Is it violation of Title VII? Not always. Doesn’t that seem strange?

That is why entrepreneurs should set a higher standard than just following the law. Rather than trying to determine if an activity is illegal, determine whether the conduct is “right.” That really is an easy question to answer. Put it to this test: Is the action I am about to take something that I would do or say in the presence of a jury in a Federal Courtroom?

If the answer is not a definite “Yes,” rethink what you are about to do.