Sex in the Workplace

How to avoid becoming the next David Letterman.


You may spend most of your waking hours with the people you work with, but does that mean it’s a good idea to sleep with them? What I find most interesting about this topic is that even in this day and age, the topic is evergreen. Here’s what I mean.


In early 2004, I was invited to appear on The O’Reilly Factor, which airs on the Fox News station. The topic was sex in the office. Bill asked for my opinion as to whether or not I thought sex was happening in the office during work hours, as well as after hours. We also discussed sexual harassment in the workplace. What I didn’t know at the time was that the producer, who brought me on the show, was allegedly being harassed by Mr. O’Reilly.

Fast forward six months later, and Bill’s producer, Andrea Mackris, was accusing him of sexual harassment. Obviously Bill didn’t listen to what I had to say. We never really learned if Bill was guilty or innocent, as he settled with Ms. Mackris for what is rumored to be a number well into the millions.

Now we have Mr. David Letterman in the spotlight. What these two people have in common is that they both have deep pockets. They can afford to pay millions in attorney fees and any settlements that may occur. Can you say the same thing?

As a manager, here are some key things you need to know about sexual harassment.

1. The definition of sexual harassment is based on a “reasonable” person’s standard. Here’s what this means. Suppose a woman files a sexual harassment claim against you for creating a hostile work environment. You and the guys may think it’s OK to share jokes of a sexual nature, but if most women find these type of jokes offensive, then it falls under harassment.

2. If you are personally charged with sexual harassment, you can bet your bottom dollar that your company is not going to pay for a lawyer to defend you. That my friend will have to come out of your own pocket. Have you seen attorney fees lately?


3. Sexual harassment is not limited to the opposite sex. There are a number of cases of same-sex harassment. This means you better not ignore an employee who comes up to you and claims a co-worker of the same sex is sexually harassing them.

As a manager, your job is to create a workplace where your employees feel safe. That begins with you. Make sure you lead by example.


Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Human Resource Solutions

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About the author

For more than 25 years, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting, has helped leaders in Fortune 500 companies, including Best Buy, New Balance, The Boston Beer Company and small to medium-size businesses, achieve dramatic growth and market leadership through the maximization of talent. She is known world-wide as “The Talent Maximizer®.” Roberta, a leading authority on leadership and the skills and strategies required to earn employee commitment and client loyalty, is the author of the top-selling book, Suddenly In Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, 2011), a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book For Leaders