Preventing Sexual Harassment | A Primer For Managers

On a recent episode of American Idol, a young male singer auditioning for the show was asked by judge Katy Perry to give her a kiss on the cheek.

He did. She told him to do it again

The second time, as he went to kiss her on her cheek, Perry unexpectedly turned her head resulting in the male contestant kissing her on the lips.

Following this, social media lit up with cries of "sexual harassment"...

But the question is...

Was it?

Sexual Harassment Defined

Many are quick to cry, "sexual harassment", but few actually know what it is.

To clearly understand it, recognize that sexual harassment has 2 components: "sexual" and "harassment. 

Section 10 of the Ontario Human Rights Code defines harassment as:

“engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.”

By this definition, more than one event must take place for there to be a violation. (

The United Nations define the "sexual" component in harassing behaviour as:

 "...sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical
conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, or
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment." 

Sexual Harassment IS Subjective

Sexual harassment is sexual harassment, right?


Whether an action or behaviour is perceived by the recipient to be sexual harassment is completely subjective

The reason for this lies in the fact that for a behaviour to be considered harassment, it must be unwanted and determining if a behaviour is unwelcome and unwanted lies with each individual person

This means that the exact same behaviour may be considered sexual harassment by one person but not sexual harassment by another.

Tying this back to the Katy Perry example earlier, after she kissed the would-be contestant and social media erupted with cries of sexual harassment, everyone on social media were wrong.

It was not sexual harassment because the 19 year old man she kissed did NOT consider the actions unwelcome and unwanted and therefore did not consider it to be sexual harassment.

Just because you would consider the behaviour to be sexual harassment if it had happened to you doesn't mean that the behaviour is inherently sexual harassment

Whether something an incident is actually sexual harassment or not can only be decided by the person to whom the advances were made.

You cannot cry sexual harassment for someone else (unless you know them personally and know for a fact they considered the actions unwelcome but were too afraid to say it).

So, given that there is no way for someone to know how their actions will be perceived by another, it is best NOT make any advances towards any employee. Period.

Management Rules To Live By

So, if you are a manager and want to make sure you never commit, or are accused of, sexual harassment, here are a few rules to live by.

Note: this advice applies to any form of advances of BOTH a romantic and sexual nature.

First, ask yourself this: does there exists an imbalance of power between the you (the person making the advance) and the recipient of your advances.

If so, you have laid the ground work for your actions to be considered sexual harassment.

Second, assume that your advance will be considered unwelcome and unwanted by the recipient. 

Third, even if you know that you are a professional and any rejection of your advances would in no way affect your treatment of the person who rejected you, they may not know this and perceive otherwise. Always remember...perception is reality. 

Lastly, even if your behaviour isn't technically considered sexual harassment, this in no way should imply that it is appropriate. Keep your romantic/sexual life and professional life separate.

The Days Of Madmen Are Gone

The television show, Madmen, was set in the 1960's...a time when sexual harassment was common. 

This was almost 60 years ago.

A lot has changed over the past 60 years including what is and is NOT acceptable in the workplace.

Whether you are male or female, having "VP", "Manager", or "Chief" on your business card in no way entitles you to anything from your employees other than their full effort in doing their job

Exhibiting behaviour of a sexual nature, whether it be advances or lewd comments, is never ok and has no place in any professional environment.