the Sweet Smell of Burning Fur (plonq) wrote,
the Sweet Smell of Burning Fur
plonq

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Is it, or isn't it?

I read an interesting little anecdote on Reddit today from a girl who worked in the meat department of a grocery store. She was tasked with training a new guy who apparently had the emotional maturity of a 15-year old. Every time the subject of meat came up, he would giggle, and make puerile comments about how he liked to handle meat (or other comments of that nature). She said that she laughed the first time, but that his continued behaviour made her feel uncomfortable. He never showed up for work again after the first day, but she wanted to know if she had been the victim of sexual harassment.

My first thought was, "Well, was he making you uncomfortable and creating a hostile work environment for you? If so, then yes."

I was unsatisfied with that answer, though, because it is too black-and-white for me. To my mind, the situation is a bit more nuanced. Was she harassed? By the technical definition of the term, I think that she was.

BUT

By her own admission, she laughed at his joke the first time even though she did not find it funny. To a nervous new hire who is trying to fit in, this could be taken as a sign of approval. She never told him that his jokes made her uncomfortable, but at the same time, one might argue that she should not have to. Was it harassment? I guess if we want to set the bar really, really low then it was. I am a little old-school though, and I have always felt that there should be thresholds to these things.

Harassment through innocent ignorance is far less egregious in my opinion than harassment that crosses boundaries that anyone with a normal sense of social moors should understand is over the line. In the latter case, I am talking about things along the lines of overt advances, lewd comments directed at the target, inappropriate touching - things that any rational person should understand is unacceptable in a workplace. In the former case though, most people might find puerile meat jokes unfunny, or even a bit tiresome after awhile, but most would not find them a source of tension and discomfort.

At some point I think the onus is on us to let others around us know where our personal boundaries reside. If somebody's behaviour in the workplace bothers you; tell them. Most people are reasonable, and will respect your threshold of comfort. If they do not, then it becomes a wilful act, and is unquestionably harassment in my mind.
Tags: harassment
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