Working Wounded Blog: Sexual Harassment By Proxy

News Flash: California Supreme Court declares that sexual harassment claims can be filed by someone not directly harassed in the workplace.

In a landmark decision, the left coast's top court held that two women who were not involved in a workplace affair had grounds to sue because the paramour of their boss received preferential treatment.

The words "prison" and "party" don't normally go together in my mind. But after reading about the workplace where the harassment took place, California's Valley State Prison for Women, I'll have to think again about what goes on behind those guard gates and razor wire.

Let me explain. Two Valley State women employees sued because they claimed that the warden promoted women who he was romantically involved with over women who were not sleeping with him. This is where the case gets interesting. The warden wasn't having one affair. He wasn't sleeping with two women at the same time. He managed to maintain three concurrent affairs. Actually the CNN description didn't even stop there; its report said that he had "at least" three affairs.

This guy gives new meaning to the phrase "working around the clock." I'm a guy, and the thought of maintaining three affairs just wears me out. Then again, just being a warden, I thought, would manage to occupy someone's full attention too. How naïve I am!

This case also is a great example of the law of "unintended consequences." This is where we are so focused on what we are doing, that we fail to see its unintended results on the people around us. After reading much of the commentary surrounding this decision, there was a common thread that this case would obviously be overturned by the right coast Supreme Court (isn't it interesting how the courts of both coasts so completely align with their political affiliations?).

Whether the case is overturned or not, it clearly shows the danger of putting all your eggs in the workplace basket. Many of us spend a huge amount of time at work. We make all of our friends at work, we derive most of the meaning for our lives from work, and yes, we often date the people at work.

This case points out that our actions, especially dating, can have an impact far beyond us. It's like when you throw a rock into a calm lake and the wake generated flows in all directions. Relationships not only make work complicated for the people involved, it makes things complicated for everyone that they come into contact with.

What's so ironic is that so many people seem to think that they are like Casper the Friendly Ghost at work -- invisible. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is only one workplace dogma that I believe: No one can keep a secret indefinitely at work. And if you are a boss, well, the odds go down even further. Because whether you like it or not, every person who works for you is always watching everything that you do or say.

So according to the California Supreme Court, if you are a supervisor who dates at work, don't be surprised if you are suddenly greeted by an orgy of lawsuits.

Quote of the week:
"Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings." -- C.D. Jackson

Weekly book excerpt:
From "Intrapreneuring in Action" by Gifford Pinchot and Ron Pellman (Berrett Koeler, 1999).

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