Harassment: `Intent’ vs. `Impact’ (2)

In the previous blog entry I posed the question: which is more important, `intent’ or `impact’?

Here’s the answer: it all depends on which stage of the process you’re referring to.

In the assessment of any harassment situation, there are always two basic stages:
Step 1: determining whether `harassment’ took place
Step 2: determining the proper consequences for the harassment

In stage 1, IMPACT is the single most important factor. The focus has to be on whether or not people’s sense of dignity was negatively impacted or whether someone was humiliated or insulted by the source’s actions. If someone was impacted negatively, then the offensive action can probably be classified as `harassment’.

Only in stage 2 does INTENT enter the picture. In this phase, the Source’s intent plays a major role in deciding how the organization should handle the situation.

For example, if those engaging in a string of `gay jokes’ did not intend to offend but, rather, were trying to make the workplace a fun place, they may be treated very differently than if they were telling those jokes specifically to embarrass a bystander who may be gay. In both cases, the end result (= impact) was that someone was offended. However, the intent in both cases was very different and thus the consequences should also be different.

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