Sexual Harassment Or “Just A Bit Of Banter”?

I read an interesting piece in the UK’s Personnel Today about the perils of seemingly innocent (or not) “sexual banter:”

“How many times have we heard sexual harassment in the workplace dismissed as ‘just a bit of banter’? It may seem like a joke or even a compliment to those who have never experienced it – but those who have will know just how undermining, humiliating and sometimes terrifying it can be.”

Young Male Face 2

The article referred to a recent report on sexual harassment put out by The Trade Unions Congress in London which, among many other stats, found that 52% of women have experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment but only one in five reported it to the employer.

This may be the UK – but the overall findings of the report are consistent with the US.

The Personnel Today article published an interesting list of ten myths about sexual harassment, with discussion and legal citations, which I recommend to all readers, not just UK readers.

The ten myths they listed are:

“Banter” is not sexual harassment.

It is not sexual harassment if the victim does not complain.

A single comment that is not repeated cannot be sexual harassment.

A benign motive is a defence against a sexual harassment allegation.

A compliment cannot be sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment always involves a physical act.

An allegation of sexual harassment is considered only from the viewpoint of the victim.

A subordinate cannot sexually harass a manager.

Only the person towards whom the behaviour is directed can bring a sexual harassment claim.

Sexual harassment can be committed only by a man against a woman.


Takeaway: UK or US – the statistics are the same, as are the myths about sexual harassment.


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]