Does crude banter lead to sexual harassment at work?
B.C. Human Rights Tribunal dismisses claim because employee engaged in rude sexual banter
A female employee at a North Vancouver Sleep Country Canada store had her human rights claim for sexual harassment dismissed because she engaged in sexual banter.
A B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision has set a precedent for sexual banter in the workplace.
Sleep Country Canada employee Adele Kafer had her claim for sexual harassment dismissed because she took part in conversations of a sexual nature with her colleagues.
During the process, the company admitted crude banter was the norm in the workplace, but also claimed Kafer willingly engaged in sexually lewd interactions with other staff.
sexualized- Workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman
By her own admission, Kafer joked about penis size and sex, along with everyone else at the North Vancouver Sleep Country store. Kafer claimed she did it to fit in.
However, when she received an obscene email from a colleague, making a joke about date rape drugs, she deemed her coworker had crossed a line and proceeded to file a complaint.
According to documents released by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, Kafer's participation in conversations involving sexual banter led to her claim being dismissed.
In submissions to the BCHRT, Sleep Country Canada claimed all the stores Kafer worked at had sexualized environments.
However, Sleep Country spokesperson Brett Abrams told the CBC otherwise.
"I firmly believe that this is in fact an isolated incident," he said.
Kafer declined to comment.
Workers and employers beware
Workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman warns against becoming involved with such workplace interactions.
"As an employee, really watch out for sexualized environments and try to steer clear of joining in," she said.
Newman says employers and companies also have to be careful, she cautions.
"You want to make sure it's a professional environment, whether it's selling mattresses or selling lamps," she said.
"Take a zero harm approach. Recognize that people are coming to work to be healthy and be in a healthy environment and to ensure that people are safe," says Newman.
"So asking people to refrain from sexual banter, sexual innuendo, talking to people about not doing it, as part of a respectful workplace would be beneficial."
with files from the CBC's Jason Proctor