Hypothetically, imagine that a workplace does not have a policy telling employees they can’t date each other. John has been attracted to Jane since he first got hired, and he wants to ask her out on a date.
His concern is that, if she doesn’t share his feelings, she may feel trapped and offended by the request. She may even think that it’s harassment since she didn’t want to be in a relationship and now he has put her in an awkward position. Does he have to worry about asking Jane out counting as sexual harassment?
Asking once is typically permitted
Unless he does so in an explicit or offensive manner, John can likely ask Jane out on a date without worrying about allegations of sexual harassment. She is completely free to say no if she does not want to date him. As long as he doesn’t discriminate against her or harass her after the fact, it should be fine.
Trouble can also come if he asks her repeatedly. The rule of thumb is that one request is allowed. If he gets turned down, he has to let it go. Continuing to pester her for a relationship can quickly become harassment. That could cost him his job.
John’s position with the company may also matter. For instance, if Jane is simply his co-worker, he can likely ask without putting her in an uncomfortable position. If he is her supervisor, though, he runs the risk of making her think she has to say yes. Plus, if she says no and he then refuses to give her promotions or otherwise discriminates against her, that is illegal activity.
These situations can get complex, as you can see, and everyone involved must know their rights. Sexual harassment in the workplace is never acceptable, and help is available.