"The line between sexual banter and harassment can sometimes be indistinct, even blurred. But crossing it is costly.” We posted this comment last week.
How about when the comment does not rise to even mere banter but is only a casual remark or even simply a workplace compliment? Are these comments safe or taboo?
Leanne Italie, writing for the Associated Press and published in Rocky Mount Telegram, asked “Are workplace compliments focused on looks or other personal details like dress ever OK? Is the alternative a more sterile professional life? When do such remarks rise to actionable harassment, or become worthy of a friendly rebuff or a trip to human resources?”
She cites to experts who suggest that “tone, context and a pattern of behavior are everything when it comes to unwanted remarks.” No doubt this is true. However, as we noted a few times, as recently as yesterday, the specter of male power differential still is ever present: one labor lawyer said that “Whenever you’re in some kind of a male-dominated world, there are always many sides to a compliment. They’re about power and so using a compliment is a way to change the power dynamic between two individuals, and there’s some tension there. That happens very frequently.”
So can a compliment be considerd harassment? This same lawyer said that “When you’re thinking about the legal landscape, compliments alone don’t typically constitute unlawful sexual harassment.” But its all about context — and whether a compliment is simply a starting point for banter, or something else.