On May 28th we did a post entitled “Does One N-Word, One Sexual Assault, Plus Four Other Harassing Incidents In “Eleven Days At Most” Create a Hostile Work Environment?”   We discussed a number of court cases which we found difficult to reconcile, each of which seemingly revolved around the quantum of incidents necessary to establish a hostile work environment.

One reader commented sagely that the legal standard should not be dispositive on this issue – that legality was a necessary but not sufficient consideration when it comes to answering this question.


“What’s right?,” and “what kind of culture do we want to have,” and “what does my moral compass as a leader tell me?” are just as important, says Nathan Deily, a senior HR manager at Microsoft in Redmond, WA.  His full comment is below, and excellent advice.

“It seems to me that focusing on what [the] standard should be by looking at case law and statutes is a necessary but not sufficient step in the overall thought process. Being aware of and compliant with the law is fine, but that is not the simple standard to which a company or organization should hold itself – just because things are “not illegal” or it’s not clear exactly where conduct crosses the line as defined by the current state of case law – does not mean that they are consistent with a company’s values, culture or the simple standards of common decency, decorum and professionalism.

In other words – ask “what’s right?”, “what kind of culture do we want to have” and “what does my moral compass as a leader tell me?” and apply that along with a strong working knowledge of the law to make a good decision.

When an employee’s behavior crosses the line, the company can and should take action, not merely because some line is crossed based on a complex calculus of check marks within a defined period of time, but because the conduct itself is unacceptable and warrants a strong response.”