Sex Is No Joke In the Office

October 1996

EXECUTIVE MEMO

Sex Is No Joke In The Office

Did you hear the one about the two people in the supply closet? If you did, it shouldn't have been at work. Federal workers are growing less and less tolerant of sex talk at the office, according to the Merit Systems Protection Board. The August issue of Issues of Merit, the newsletter of MSPB's office of policy and review, warns against sexual joking, comments, even talking about sex at work.

More than half those responding to a MSPB survey last year agreed that "Sexual joking or conversations in which people talk about sexual issues are almost always inappropriate in the workplace."

The newsletter says the growing discomfort is part of a trend toward seeing more and more activities of a sexual nature as harassment. MSPB reported on sexual harassment in government in 1980, 1987, 1994 and 1995. The percentage of women who considered pressure for a date from a supervisor to be harassment grew from 77 percent in 1980 to 91 percent in 1994. While 76 percent of men considered such pressure harassment in 1980, 86 percent did in 1994.

As for sexual teasing, jokes and remarks at work, the percentage of women who believe such banter constitutes harassment grew from 54 percent in 1980 to 77 percent in 1994; the percentage of men who agreed went from 42 percent to 64 percent. In 1980, fewer than half the men surveyed considered suggestive looks and gestures from co-workers to be harassment. By 1994, more than three-quarters of men put leering in the harassment column. Meanwhile, the percentage of women offended by looks and gestures rose from 72 percent in 1980 to 91 percent in 1994.

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