Sexual Harassment: Who is Responsible?


As a peer described Rob, “He’s always kidding around and usually has a joke handy.”

A friend, passing Rob’s work station, noticed that Rob had a 1960’s Playboy-type photo of a model on his computer screen. “I don’t think you should have that photo on your screen,” the friend commented.

“Aah, it just popped up,” Rob said.  “I don’t always know where these things come from.”

Others had also noticed questionable images on Rob’s screen but no one spoke about it. A young female employee, who recently joined the team, said to her friend.  “I was talking to Rob and I was shocked at the image I saw on his computer.”

Eventually, someone reported Rob to Human Resources.  When questioned, Rob’s supervisor said, “I guess I was aware of it, but I didn’t pay much attention.  It’s hard to control everything that appears on someone’s computer.”

After investigating, the company found both Rob and his supervisor to be in violation of its sexual harassment policy.  “Why discipline me?” the supervisor asked.  “I didn’t do anything.”

Supervisors need to know that they may be held accountable for “contributing to a hostile work environment” even if they did not commit the questionable acts.