Sexual Harassment, Bullying or Both?

“Where were you? Did you go to meet Sam?” Sharon’s boss Judy said accusingly, as she smirked.

“No,” said Sharon. “I went downstairs to get lunch.”

Judy looked at Sharon, crossed her arms, gave an angry look and then walked away. Sharon could hear Judy go into her co-worker Helen’s cubical and whisper. She couldn’t hear what was being said, but the whispering was obvious. Then she heard Robin stop by Helen’s cubical and say, “What’s going on?”

Sharon couldn’t see over the large cubical walls, but she knew there were at least 3 people in there whispering. Suddenly, they broke out into loud laughter, afterwhich, Robin walked by Sharon’s cubicle, glaring at Sharon as she rushed by. This has been going on for weeks.

Sharon first met Sam a few weeks earlier while buying coffee downstairs. He was one of the most senior executives in the company and she was somewhat intimidated. He asked her what she had been working on. She was startled by the question, wondering why he would ask. She was very junior and there were 1000s of people between her level and Sam’s. She quietly answered his questions, made some quick conversation and a quicker exit, back upstairs to her cubicle.

A few days later, the usual chit chat on her floor got suddenly quiet. It was very eery. She peeked out of her cubicle to see what was happening. Everyone had their heads down and was working. No one was talking. Silence.

“Hi Sharon!” The voice came from behind her. “What are you working on?” She turned to see Sam, standing there, smiling. She hesitated, still intimidated and walked back to her desk, sat down and started to show him her work. He stayed for just a few minutes and then left.

A week later, he began to call her at home. He made his intentions clear, he was interested in something more. She let him know she was not interested and ask him to stop calling, but the calls continued. His calls made her feel intruded upon, and she wasn’t sure the best way to respond. She got lots of conflicting advice and she didn’t know which to follow. She was lost.

Sam continued to stop by her cube to chat. She always knew when Sam was around because it got quiet as soon as he left the elevator and walked onto the floor.

And now this. Now, not only did she have Sam to deal with, but her boss and co-workers also.

The environment became very hostile. Even though she had asked him to stop, Sam continued to call her and stop by her cubicle. She couldn’t speak to her boss about it. She was afraid to discuss this with Human Resources. She thought if they investigate, it may get back to Sam and hurt her career.

Her relationships with her boss and co-workers continued to deteriorate. Her boss began to give her meaningless trivial assignments. She felt isolated, alienated, alone. She ended up having to leave the job and the company.

There are many types of harassment and it each can take many forms.

The way Sam treated Sharon was easy to define. Many people may say the way her boss and co-workers treated her was also a form of sexual harassment. Do you agree and if not, how would you define her boss and co-worker’s behavior?

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