DEAR DAWG: I thought the cartoon was funny. I didn’t intend to offend anyone. Is this really “harassment”?

DEAR DAWG: I thought the cartoon was funny.  Other people had put cartoons on the bulletin board in the lounge.  Teachers enjoyed checking them out, passing them along and so on.  So I posted the cartoon.  I guess it was a bit on the risqué side, but hey…we’re all grown ups here.  So I thought.

Well.  Some of the ladies who work here were highly offended by the cartoon.  They thought it was vulgar, sexist and inappropriate.  I can assure you that was not my intent. I just thought it was funny.

I think these people are overreacting. And I thought we were moving away from “political correctness.” Can’t a person make a joke anymore?  Now someone has filed a formal complaint, accusing me of “harassment.”  What do you think?  NO MORE CARTOON POSTING FOR ME.

DEAR NO MORE: Was it “harassment”? That’s a decision that will have to be made by the administrator who is handling the complaint.  But we can tell you what the policies of most districts say about this.  Take a look at your district Policy DIA Local.  You will probably find that it   defines “harassment” in the way the courts have generally defined it.  The definition of “prohibited harassment” applies to conduct that is “so severe, persistent, or pervasive” that it 1) has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with work performance; 2) creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile or offensive work environment; or 3) otherwise “adversely affects” performance, environment or opportunities.

You say that you did not intend to offend anyone, but your intent is not the only issue.  What was the effect?  That matters also.  A single insensitive remark, or cartoon posting, will usually fall short of being “so severe, persistent, or pervasive” that it “adversely affected” your co-workers.  But remember: the way that supervisors prevent big problems is by taking action on the small stuff.  This is a good example of that.  You didn’t intend any harm, but you caused some.  Your supervisor may not label it as “harassment” but in this Dawg’s opinion, your supervisor should take corrective action to make sure there is no repeat performance.

There are lots of funny cartoons. Find a better one next time.  You can post a cartoon that ridicules lawyers.  We won’t complain.


File this one under: SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Tomorrow: Do I have to directly confront the person who is harassing me?