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If someone agrees to a sexual relationship, how is that sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is an unwelcome act. However, we often agree to things we do not welcome. For example, you may consent to have a cavity filled, but that does not mean you welcome the dental work required to fill the cavity.

With sexual harassment, a participant may consent to a sexual relationship with another workplace participant, but not welcome it because they believe they must consent to keep their job, get a raise, be considered for a promotion, avoid having something disclosed, or for countless other reasons. 

That is why sexual relationships between managers and subordinates are problematic. These relationships are unequal and, therefore, whether a relationship is welcomed is always questionable and so is consent. 

The takeaway is that if you are a manager or supervisor, you can never really know for sure that a subordinate welcomed a sexual relationship with you, unless the relationship is formalized (e.g., marriage) and even then, circumstances can change.

Jack McCalmon, Leslie Zieren, and Emily Brodzinski are attorneys with more than 50 years combined experience assisting employers in lowering their risk, including answering questions, like the one above, through the McCalmon Group’s Best Practices Help Line. The Best Practice Help Line is a service of The McCalmon Group, Inc. Your organization may have access to The Best Practice Help Line or a similar service from another provider at no cost to you or at a discount. For questions about The Best Practice Help Line or what similar services are available to you via this Platform, call 888.712.7667.

If you have a question that you would like Jack McCalmon, Leslie Zieren, or Emily Brodzinski to consider for this column, please submit it to Please note that The McCalmon Group cannot guarantee that your question will be answered. Answers are based on generally accepted risk management best practices. They are not, and should not be considered, legal advice. If you need an answer immediately or desire legal advice, please call your local legal counsel.

Source: EPLResource (

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