Implications of “welcome” vs. “unwelcome.”

DEAR DAWG: Someone told me it’s OK for me to have sex with a co-worker as long as we are both happy about it.  True?  NOT SAYING I WOULD…JUST WANT TO KNOW MY OPTIONS.

DEAR NOT SAYING:  It’s above the Dawg’s pay grade to know whether or not it is “OK” for you to do this.  Lots of variables apply to that question.  We don’t know if you are referring to “OK” in terms of morality, marital fidelity, workplace harmony, or legalities.  So we will confine our answer to what we can speak about, which is the legal angle. 

Let’s assume that Person A and Person B are employed at District C. They hold the same position, neither one supervising the other.  Maybe they are teachers in classrooms next door to each other.  Person A makes sexual overtures toward Person B, to which Person B responds YIPPEE! YES!! BY ALL MEANS!!!  WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?????

Thus, with regard to Person A, Person B’s welcome mat is out, so to speak.  What we can say about that for sure, is that Person A has not engaged in sexual harassment.  Sexual activity of employees with students is always forbidden, but among the grownups who work for the district, the key term is “unwelcome.”

I always think of my friend and colleague Wayne Haglund when discussing this issue. Wayne is the lawyer who once pointed out the implications of this term “unwelcome.” It means that two employees in your district are free to have a sexual fling with each other as long as both parties are happy. 

But there’s a hitch.  Once they get started they cannot stop. As long as all activities are “welcome” by both parties, you do not have sexual harassment.  As Wayne pointed out, it’s when one party pulls up the welcome mat that the legal issues arise.

Of course romantic and/or sexual activity in the workplace can be a problem even if it is enthusiastically welcomed by both parties.  For one thing, if there is a power imbalance between the parties, such as a principal and a teacher, what looks to be “welcome” may not be.  There is pressure on the lower rank employee to welcome the overture. 

There can be other problems.  That rendezvous at the copy machine lingers on much longer than necessary. That lunch break stretches out.  Googly eyed employees are not as attentive to the task as they should be.  Any activity that gets in the way of the work being done is a problem—but it is not “sexual harassment” unless it is “unwelcome.”


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at

Tomorrow: the BTS Tour!