Definition of Sexual Harassment
Scenarios in the Sexual Harassment & Misbehavior Game
Cost to Firms of Sexual Harassment & Misbehavior
The Sexual Harassment & Misbehavior Game
Musings about the Game
Outcomes of the Model
The scourge of the day is sexual harassment. There’s nothing new about sexual harassment. It has always existed. What has changed is the fact that society is now overtly condemning the practice, rather than covertly condoning it.
On the other hand, the issue is a more complicated than simply determining whether or not harassment is acceptable.
Of course, sexual harassment does occur. And from what I’ve personally heard and experienced, there’s much more actual harassment that happens than just those cases that make the news.
However, there are complications.
One complication is the fact that relatively benign behavior can be misinterpreted as harassment. Someone tells a joke in bad taste. Or someone makes an inappropriate comment or gesture. An overly sensitive worker may then “misinterpret” or overreact to the inappropriate behavior.
A second complication is that the alleged victim may be intentionally falsely accusing the alleged harasser. The intention of the accuser may be to extort gains (payment, promotion, etc.) from the alleged harasser. Alternatively, the accuser may want the alleged harasser to be punished (have him fired, ruin his reputation, etc.) for whatever reason (personal, political, ideological). I would call this latter event sexual misbehavior, where the accuser has bad intentions. The classic case is the “woman who sleeps her way to the top.”
A third complication is that the accuser and the alleged harasser may have actually both willingly engaged in sexual activity. But after-the-fact, the accuser may have regretted his or her actions and thus have alleged harassment. This is another of case of what I would call sexual misbehavior, but where the accuser does not necessarily (initially) have bad intentions.
All these potential scenarios create complications for firms. When one employee accuses another employee of harassment, it may be
- An actual case of sexual harassment;
- Inappropriate behavior misinterpreted by the accuser as sexual harassment;
- A case of sexual misbehavior on the part of the accuser, trying to benefit at the expense of the accused; or
- A case of sexual misbehavior by the accuser who regrets his or her actions.
So then given an accusation of sexual harassment, what should the firm do? Should the firm punish the accused, given the risk that
- The allegation may be true, but the accused is a rainmaker for the firm, and firing him or her will cost the firm a substantial amount in lost revenues?
- The alleged harassment was simply a misinterpretation? Or worse, given the risk that the alleged harassment is actually sexual misbehavior by the accuser? In this latter case, firing the accused means you would be firing an innocent—and perhaps valuable—employee.
- If the firm does not punish the employee and information about the incident leaks to the public, then the firm will be suffer the wrath of society?
We see, then, that when a firm is presented with an accusation of sexual harassment, it’s not so clear which actions the firm should take.
This analysis examines the Sexual Harassment & Misbehavior Game. It seeks to answer such questions as:
- How do the courts define sexual harassment?
- What are some of the different scenarios involving sexual harassment?
- What are the costs to firms of sexual harassment and misbehavior?
- What does the Sexual Harassment & Misbehavior Game look like?
- What does the model predict?
My thanks to Lloyd Nirenberg, PhD, for providing significant direction for the analysis.