THE FEDERAL government has expanded its definition of sexual discrimination to include situations in which there may not be any discrimination but there may be sex. The situation involves the promoter (usually the man), the promotee (usually the woman and the left-outee, usually the woman who did not get promoted because the promoter was having a sexual relationship with the promotee. This, like $99[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] is now banished from the land.

The law does not say, however, what to do if a man promotes a woman because he simply likes her. It does not say what to do if he promotes her because he finds her fetching but has never, shall we say, fetched $99[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] the way she wears her hat $99[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] Gershwin motif, the way she sips her tea.

It does not say what constitutes sex. It does not say if sex is going all the way or just maybe petting above the waist of maybe whatever Prince Charles does with his rumored intended that let her uncle, Lord Fermoy to assure the world she was still (knock on wood) a virgin. It does not say what to do about pinches near the water cooler and smiles that promise something more. We all have something to look forward to.

All the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulation says is that to favor one employe over another "because of an individual's submissions to the employer's sexual advances or requests for sexual favors" is a violation of the federal regs and the employer "may be held liable for unlawful sexual discrimination," for which the penalty is something short of death.

Now, the law in its wisdom is on to something. To promote or otherwise benefit someone as a result of anything other than performance or ability or something that has to do with the job is wrong. It may not be illegal and it may not even be immoral, but it is certainly wrong. We all recognize that, and we even have words for it -- favoritism, for example. The correct thing to do is to reward on the basis of performance. All else is beside the point. t

But people (employers) promote, reward, benefit for a host of reasons. They do it becuase they like the person (employe) involved. They do it because they play golf with the person, because the person is in the car pool with them, because the person is funny or not funny, short or tall -- for all the myriad reasons that people like or do not like each other.

Sometimes what they do and the reasons for doing it are wrong, but they are always so complicated and so hard to evaluate that they fall under the heading of human conduct. It is the most complicated of all subjects and the government would be wise to butt out.

Sex is always a special case, but it is not the only way an employe can please a boss -- assuming there is nothing more to the relationship than an attempt to advance a career. What the government is really playing around with, after all, is everything from personal perference to the age-old practice of apple polishing. It might mean saying yes to the boss's every dopey remark or carrying his golf bags or going to bed with him or her. There are, after all, many ways to be a prostitute.

Stopping a boss (man or woman) from showing favoritism towards an employe may be a worthy aim, but it is a long way from the usual forms of discrimination -- sexual, racial, ethnic or whatever. These are the real problems of the society and they are the ones in which we all have a stake. It is this sort of descrimination, practiced widely and routinely, that in the end weakens the society, deprives it of leadership by merit and mocks the rhetoric of American democracy. We all have a stake in eradicating that sort of discrimination.

The real trouble with the new regulations is that they stretch the mandate of the EEOC. They make the agency seem sill and trendy, not concerned with real, substantive issues -- traditional discriminations -- but instead like some sort of bureaucratic busy-body that cannot itself discriminate among various forms of discrimination. In doing that, the EEOC has put itself in a politically vulnerable position, endangering the good and valuable work it has already done and needs to do. And knowing that, it's hard to understand why anyone would think that the new regulations were necessary.

Maybe someone wrote them to please the boss.