Is It Sexual Harassment to Stare at Another Employee for More Than 5 Seconds?

Yes, but if your parents didn't teach you it's impolite to stare at people it will sound ridiculous when well-mannered adults write a rule against it.

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By Gene Marks

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You're at your desk and thinking about a complex, work-related problem. Lost in thought, your eyes wander your open-space office and linger for five seconds on a female co-worker. Was that sexual harassment? According to some reports, that could be the case at Netflix.

To be sure, it's not a hard and fast rule, a company spokesperson told Quartz. But it's a "recommendation" that was "in fact, discussed in an anti-harassment training session." Staring too long at a female colleague was not the only thing discussed. In the wake of #MeToo, senior staff at Netflix were required to attend meetings designed to teach them the differences between appropriate and inappropriate conduct with their fellow workers. Among the things discussed were avoiding "lingering hugs," flirting and not repeatedly asking for a colleague's phone number when turned down for it the first time. Oh, don't stare at someone for more than five seconds.

Doesn't this all sound crazy? To me it does and it's because a bunch of stupid men (yes, it's men) have created this mess. Thanks, guys, for making it even harder to run my business.

Related: Is 'That' Sexual Harassment? How to Tell, Using 'Cooper's 6 Levels.'

I frequently meet with clients and there are always women present. Do I comment on their appearance? Do I compliment them on their clothes, their hairstyle, their makeup? Do I talk about anything that could remotely be considered sexual, inappropriate or demeaning? Do I touch? Do I leer? Do I gaze? Do I stare? When a woman walks out of the room do I make comments to my male colleagues about her physical appearance?

No, I don't do any of this stuff. Is it because I underwent extensive training on sexual harassment or that I'm immune to others' appearances? No, it's because I have a daughter. I have a wife. I've worked with women for more than 30 years. Like most men, I simply know how to behave in a work environment. This is not just a matter of respect and professionalism. It's…um...common sense?

Apparently common sense is in short supply. For example, on election day last month, the City of Philadelphia (my hometown) asked residents to decide whether all city workers should receive mandatory sexual harassment training. I voted no. Guess what? I was out-voted. It's unbelievable that taxpayers like me are now going to have to pay for city workers – fully grown adults - to learn the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior while working alongside someone of the opposite sex. That is assuming they don't sleep through the class anyway.

Related: How to Finally Stop Sexual Harassment at Work

It's equally unbelievable to me that companies must now dictate how long a man can look at a woman, what questions he can ask her, how many times he can ask her out on a date and whether or not it's right to give her a quick hug. It's unbelievable that small business owners like me have to now worry about -- among all our other headaches -- how our male employees behave around their female counterparts. I'm working 12 hours a day to collect receivables, complete projects on a deadline, find good people and keep things afloat and now I'm worried that Henry doesn't realize that surfing porn in the office, talking about sex or repeatedly asking for Stacey's phone number isn't appropriate?

This is not difficult, guys. In fact, allow me to save everyone some time and corporations a boatload of training dollars. Here's all the sexual harassment training you need: keep your mouth shut.

Don't comment. Don't compliment. Don't offer your opinions on how someone looks. Don't do anything in the office or behave in any way towards a female that, if some guy were behaving the same way towards your daughter, you would be inclined to punch him in the face. Just shut up and do your work. When you talk, talk about work. You want to be inappropriate? Don't. But if you feel the need, then do it on your own time and not in my office.

Related: Lawsuit Claims Google Failed to Prevent Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately, men will be men which means men will be idiots and this will always be the world we live in. #MeToo won't put an end to this. For every one Harvey Weinstein incident there are hundreds of similar situations involving creepy guys at gas stations, pizza parlors, equipment parts distributors and landscaping firms from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Woodland, California. Which means business owners like me are going to have to budget for training and policies that people should already know.

Hey, you! Could you just stop staring already?

Gene Marks

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

President of The Marks Group

Gene Marks is a CPA and owner of The Marks Group PC, a ten-person technology and financial consulting firm located near Philadelphia founded in 1994.

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