Most reported cases of sexual misconduct on university campuses follow a common narrative: a male professor engages in sexual misconduct with female student. This scenario pits sexual violence advocates against institutions and engages the media. But what happens when the narrative changes?
Examples of problematic workplace behaviours often include the obvious: a racial slur, a homophobic “joke” or inappropriate touching. But what happens when the behaviour in question is less overt? While seemingly innocuous, these types of comments can amount to what has been dubbed “microaggressions”. Named the ‘Top Word of 2015’ by the Global Language Monitor, this term has become increasingly popular in our common parlance. But what are microaggressions and why should employers (and other institutions) be concerned about them?
The law on harassment investigations tells us that an employer must conduct an investigation that is “reasonable” and “appropriate in the circumstances.” The challenge is to know what the exact content of a reasonable and appropriate investigation is, particularly when the workplace issue to investigate appears to be like a puzzle with missing pieces whose final picture is constantly shifting.
One of my most embarrassing moments occurred in high school when I had dinner with a friend, whose grandmother was visiting from Iran. She had made us a wonderful meal, and because she didn’t speak any English I tried to convey my gratitude with two enthusiastic thumbs up. She gave me a shocked look and ran out of the room, while my friend and her parents dissolved into horrified giggles. Apparently, the “thumbs up” gesture does not mean the same thing throughout the world.