The Herman Cain mini-scandal got a lot of people talking about the subtleties of sexual harassment in the workplace. Here are some scenarios, many based on real events. How do you feel about them? Choose the best answers.
A recently married woman is being interviewed for a job. In the course of a wide-ranging conversation touching on subjects both professional and personal, her potential supervisor asks her if she intends to have children.
A supervisor is talking with a group of female employees and smilingly notes to one of them that she is exactly his wife’s height. There seems to be no antecedent to this – just a sudden observation. She feels uncomfortable, and complains to management.
Four married women work in a certain department. Within short period of time, three announce that they are pregnant. They’re all talking about it in a meeting with their supervisor, who turns to the fourth and playfully asks her what’s taking her so long.
In a company, it becomes well known that one of the male supervisors has a serious, chronic illness. When a female employee shows some reluctance to attend a one-on-one business meeting with him, he realizes she might be concerned for her health. He assures her laughingly (and truthfully) that his illness is not easily communicable and that the only way she could possibly contract it from him is if she had sex with him. She complains to management.
A supervisor gets a letter from the wife of an employee who is in the middle of a fractious divorce. The wife writes that she wants the supervisor to know just how this employee thinks of his colleagues. Enclosed is a transcript of an IM conversation she has printed out between her husband (Mr. A) and another male coworker (Mr. B). It is almost certainly real. It’s between the two men’s private email addresses, and the time-stamp shows it happened home-to-home, after business hours. It is a lurid, utterly inappropriate, blatantly sexist back-and-forth assessment of the physical attributes of several female coworkers, who are named. Specific desires are enumerated, in impolite language. Reasonable people would find this disgusting.
It is discovered that the CEO of a company has outfitted the office with 50 hidden floor-level video cameras to shoot up the skirts of employees and clients. The terminus of the operation is a hi-def screen in his closet with a control panel that has “zoom,” “enlarge” and "print" capabilities. Is there anything wrong with this practice?
Kidding, go on to the next question.
The head of a department has a large, framed 1960s Playboy cartoon behind his desk. It is the principal objet d’art in the room. It is a two-panel drawing of a couple having missionary sex under the covers. In the first panel, the man is saying “I love you,” and the woman is saying “Deeper, deeper!” In the second panel he says, “I love you” again, but via the typography you see he is saying it in a deeper tone of voice.
Two women in the department complain to him that they are uncomfortable having conversations in his room because of the art, and ask him to remove it. He apologizes but says he loves the cartoon, paid a lot for it, it is signed by the artist, and he refuses to remove it. They complain to management.
A male supervisor in professional office has a potty mouth. He habitually uses the f-word and the s-word, not in a belittling fashion, or in anger, but for emphasis. A female employee complains to management.
Four female coworkers are in conversation. Coincidentally, they are all 5 foot 3 or shorter. A male supervisor walks by, and comments, in what he intends to be affectionate joking, “it’s the peewee committee!” They complain to management.
A man and woman in the workplace are close colleagues and good friends, and frequently joke together in an unrestrained way. One day at work they have a heated professional argument. The woman is mostly right. She lectures the man sternly, and storms away. The vehemence of this conversation has shocked both of them a little. It takes the woman 15 seconds to walk back to her desk, at which point an instant message awaits her, from the man. It says: “I suppose a b--- j—is out of the question?”