Is sexual harassment alright if it’s coming from a harmless old-timer?

Dear Aunty B,

I read your story on SmartCompany yesterday and now I feel quite bad.

I had a new female member of staff come to me a few weeks ago about what she said was sexual harassment.

The guy is an old bloke, who is very unattractive but he does love women (he has three wives and actually married one of them twice). He occasionally gets excited and comments in a kind of jovial way, in a way he shouldn’t. But Aunty B, he is harmless and wouldn’t hurt a fly! And he would actually be really hurt and really shocked if we went to him and told him that he has been sexually harassing anyone.

I was wondering what you would do in my situation because I now think I should do something instead of telling her he was harmless. But I have no idea what and I don’t want to fan the flames if the issue is forgotten. I also don’t think of it as sexual harassment; more like office banter, but I didn’t tell her that.


Gold Coast


Dear LT,

Oh dear. What rock have you been living under? Old men who make inappropriate comments at work are not harmless. Why should anyone go to work and be on the receiving end of that? This goes to the heart of your culture and should never be ignored.

So let’s think about why you are ignoring it. It is never pleasant calling in an old-timer and giving them a good dressing down, especially when you think they will not understand where you are coming from. They have probably been behaving the same way for decades and have never been called on it.

In fact, they probably think their behaviour is fondly regarded and it is just who they are. You know what is going to happen when you call them into the boardroom? They are going to deny it, gape like a fish, then feel you are making a big scene out of nothing and then be really resentful because after all, he is a good bloke, a funny bloke and why should he change? But guess what? That is on your list of things bosses must do – and quite frankly high on your list. Tell him the world has changed and it’s time he caught up. Run through your expectations of him. Tell him it is not part of your professional culture. And ask him how would he like his daughters to go to work and be subject to behaviour like that.

Then call in your staff member and explain that you have, on reflection, decided that this is not part of the culture you want and that you have spoken to the individual and you expect behavioural change.

Be smart,

Your Aunty B

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