Fair Measures, Inc. - Legal Training for Managers

Question & Answer

My boss put his hands on me. Is this harassment? 09-09-2009

My boss walked up behind me and put his hands upon my shoulders, startling me, and said, " You need to go to the kitchen now" in a intimidating manner. Is that harassment? I quit my job after this because I felt belittled.

Ann Kiernan replies:

This does not sound like illegal harassment, based on the facts you have given. For harassment to be illegal, there are 4 essential requirements:

  1. Discriminatory or sexual behavior;
  2. That is unwelcome to the target or victim;
  3. And that is severe enough to interfere with work;
  4. And that the employer knows (or should know) about, but fails to take corrective action.

Your boss's behavior certainly is unwelcome to you, so you meet Factor 2, but since touching on the shoulder is not sexual conduct, and you do not give any reason that it might be discriminatory (based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.), it looks like you miss Factor 1. All 4 factors are needed for a court case.

I can understand that you felt uncomfortable, but it's a shame that you quit over this incident. If this kind of thing ever happens again, remember that unwelcome touching may well be a violation of company policies, and you can report it to higher management or to Human Resources. Even if it's not a violation of policy, you can always go to Human Resources and ask them for help. They could look into the matter, or to coach you on how you could talk to the boss yourself about his conduct and how you feel about it, or give you other suggestions on how best to handle the problem. Good luck.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.
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