Harassment: `Intent’ vs. `Impact’ (1)

When it comes to workplace harassment, which is more important, `impact’ or `intent’?

Let’s define these terms: `impact’ refers to the ways in which a person (or persons) were negatively affected by the actions of another individual or group (`The Source’). `Intent’ describes The Source’s motive and intentions when initiating the action/s that offended or hurt the impacted person.

For example, imagine two employees engaging in a string of light-hearted `gay jokes’. These employees are considered to be `The Source”. Another employee who overhears this exchange approaches his manager claiming that this type of joking is offensive and creates an intimidating work environment. Another example: in the course of a summer conversation about sunbathing, a male manager asks an employee who reports to him to `show her tan lines’. This employee approaches HR with a harassment complaint.

Here’s the question for you to consider: in these and other situations, how much weight should the manager put on the impact of these behaviours on the receivers vs. the weight given to the Source’s intent?

I leave you to ponder this question. Stay tuned for the next blog to find out if you got it right!

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