Does flirting and bantering between co-workers constitute sexual harassment?
UPDATED: January 3, 2011
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It is hard to state a hard-and-fast rule. When friendly and mild bantering or horseplay between the sexes crosses the line and becomes sexual harassment is the type of thing courts exist to decide.The fact that an employee participates in or tolerates or laughs off mild sexual innuendoes or lewd remarks (perhaps to fit in with the crowd) does not mean that the employee welcomed the conduct. Employees later can complain of sexual harassment even if they did join in if they did not invite the remarks. However, should matters get out of hand, even employees who encouraged or started the off-color remarks with coworkers may have cause to complain. It is a question of fact.
The same can be said of flirting. What can be flattering or complimentary to one person can be offensive, objectionable, and frightening to another. One person may regard flirting or mild horseplay as innocent fun, and it may not be viewed as objectionable at the time of the behavior, but someone else may see it as aggressive, insulting, and demeaning, or down the road it may be regarded as part of a pattern of a hostile environment.