Articles – Am I Being Sexually Harassed?

The following column, authored by Lindsey Novak, originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 16, 1999, and is reprinted with their permission:

Am I Being Sexually Harassed?

Q – My boyfriend works in an office that is primarily female. His co-workers often laugh and joke around. Many times they comment on how cute certain men are and wonder how they would be in bed. He feels uncomfortable with the conversations, but he has also made comments, such as, “The only reason women watch football is because they want to watch men in tight pants.” Can they call this harassment?

A – Technically, both these topics would be considered sexual harassment if anyone present thinks they make the workplace a hostile environment. But complaining to management about your co-workers is a sure-fire way to make enemies and turn your workplace into a battleground. If your boyfriend is truly uncomfortable about his female co-workers’ comments about men, he should explain his discomfort to them, but then he cannot join in the conversation with equally offensive comments about women. According to Eugene K. Hollander, Chicago employment attorney, unless comments are “offensive and persistent on the basis of sex” and are destroying one’s ability to work successfully, it’s better to not be overly sensitive. With 18,000 complaints filed yearly with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, only the most serious even get a hearing.