When does flirting in the workplace cross the line into sexual harassment?

By Jack Tuckner, Esq.

Well flirting, whether it’s in-person at work, or by phone, email, Zoom, or text, if it is unwelcome, unwanted, unsolicited by you, it’s already sex discrimination.

It is harassing flirting. And if the flirter is above you in the company’s power structure, meaning, there’s a power differential between you on the receiving end, and the flirter (on the giving end), then by definition, it is awkward and non-consensual, because you may feel that if you don’t go along to get along and “flirt” with this person, you can get in trouble, as this person may have the authority to get you fired. So, it’s understandable that you may not want to complain about this person, that you are concerned that you may be fired just by complaining.

Except that if saying no–if telling this person to back off–that you want to keep your relationship on a purely professional level doesn’t work (and that should be your first step), then it is important that you complain to your company. You let them know, as that’s what the law requires, so that they’ll have the opportunity to investigate (as they must) your protected sex discrimination complaint (because that’s what it is at the end of the day) and fix it, make the harasser back off, and at least you’ll have a record of this complaint in case things do get worse, because if the company treats you worse after you complain, that is illegal retaliation.

So, if you are in this uncomfortable position of dealing with someone who doesn’t respect or get your message, that you’re not interested in flirting for any reason, and that you just want to be left alone to do your job, you must give your company, whoever this person is in your company, you’re required to give the company the opportunity to resolve this matter in your favor by complaining, because the various anti-discrimination laws prohibit sex discrimination in the workplace, which is differential treatment of you (whether you’re a man or a woman) on the basis of your sex (or gender), if the other person who is harassing you is doing it and you are not interested in the harassment that is degrading the conditions of your workplace, then that is illegal, as well it should be.

If you are over your head dealing with some form of unwelcome flirting in the workplace and want to consult with us, give us a shout and we’ll arrange to speak at no charge to you, and in total confidence, I’m Jack Tuckner. We’ve been representing and advocating for women’s rights in the workplace since 1999, long before there was any hashtag (on the subject).

Take care, stay strong.