[H]aving someone read [Fifty Shades of Grey] alone during a lunch break, by itself, is probably not enough to establish a sexual harassment claim. The fact that it is a book makes a difference. (Contrast that with, say, someone watching “9 1/2 Weeks” on the lunch room television.) …
Reading a book is, by its very nature, a somewhat private and solitary endeavor.
Now, that view could change a bit, however, if there was a workplace book group discussing the more outrageous plot points in front of others. In that case, the discussion might naturally revolve around sex which might (emphasis on might) may some feel uncomfortable. …
So, go ahead. Break out the book (or Kindle, or Nook, or iPad). But its probably still best, if you hear employees discussing the book, to have those conversations kept to a PG-level.
Flash forward three years, and here we are about to have the same discussion with the theatrical release of Fifty Shades of Grey this week. In fact, Suzanne Lucas (otherwise known as the Real Evil HR Lady) echoes similar themes in a recent post to Inc.
How can discussing a movie turn your workplace into a hostile work environment? Well, if you start to get into details, you’re likely to have someone who is offended. You can’t just assume that because Jane doesn’t speak up that she’s not offended. And if the discussions go on long enough and it’s deemed an acceptable topic in the workplace, it’s possible that it could create an environment where sexual discussion starts to become the norm, and that could mean a reasonable person would find it hostile. That, plus your offended employee, is what it will take.
Now, does this mean you should go into full on panic mode and ban all mention of the movie? Probably not. Most discussions are going to be short lived, which won’t rise to the occasion of “sufficiently severe or pervasive.” But you do want to nip such conversations in the bud.
A quick reminder to keep conversation clean can go a long way toward reminding people that sexual discussions–whether real or fictional–should not have a home in the office. When you hear people talking, quip, “Hey, remember, this is a PG office.”
The workplace just isn’t the place to talk about topics like the main plot points in the book and movie. It has the possibility to offend some. The fact that women are discussing it instead of men is of no consequence.
Indeed, to establish a “hostile work environment”, an employee has to show that it is both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, and one that the person did find offensive.
So, as the next week goes on, keep your ears perked for conversation in the workplace. That conversation about an airplane ride in the movie (hey, I’ve seen the previews like everyone else in the Super Bowl commercial)? Sounds ok. That conversation about ropes and blindfolds? Not as much.