People have difficulty distinguishing between flirting and sexual harassment, according to a 1993 study by Joann Keyton and Steve Rhodes. The study found that almost 50 percent of individuals who viewed flirting scenarios perceived sexual harassment, and 78 percent of those who viewed sexual harassment scenarios perceived flirting, even when there was none. When the CBS "Early Show" interviewed "Best Life" editor Stephen Perrine in February 2009 about a magazine poll, he reported that 81 percent of women have been "creeped out" by flirtatious behavior in the workplace. The law requires that managers create an environment free from sexual harassment. Because many employees cannot distinguish between flirting and harassment, this includes stopping workplace flirting.
Provide sexual harassment training to all employees. Educate staff that flirting can be viewed as harassment and is inappropriate in the workplace.
Include the topic of flirting in the company's policies and guidelines. Most -- if not all -- organizations have a sexual harassment policy. Give examples of flirting which cross the line to sexual harassment and explain that any contact that is unwelcome by the receiving party is unsuitable for the workplace. Some companies go further and have anti-fraternization policies which specifically prohibit flirting, dating and relationships between employees.
Investigate complaints and anonymous allegations of flirting in the workplace. Sometimes complaints originate from the recipient of the flirting, and other times you might receive a comment through the company's tip line or suggestions box, from co-workers, or observe the behavior yourself. To determine the legitimacy of the allegation, you may need to interview co-workers, review email records or security camera footage. Speak to employees who have been confirmed to have engaged in workplace flirting. Inform the employees that flirting can be viewed as sexual harassment. Explain that even if the flirting is between two consenting adults, it may still have the potential to cause a hostile work environment for an observer. Tell employees that even if there is no perception of harassment, flirting is unprofessional, not work related and inappropriate behavior for the office.
Direct employees to cease their flirtatious behavior. Warn the employee that disciplinary action -- up to and including termination -- will occur if this directive is ignored and the flirting continues.
Impose discipline if the behavior continues. Disciplinary action could range from mandatory training or counseling to a suspension or dismissal from employment.