I just watched an episode of Ellen where she sent an underwear model to an office to “sell” underwear to people working there. One of the employees looked mortified, which made me wonder – wouldn’t subjecting your employees to a guy in his underwear be harassment? Was this a good idea or not?
— Old Fashioned
Dear Old Fashioned:
I prefer to think of it as a special perk of employment. If one can’t enjoy a friendly guy in underwear from time to time, what’s the point of clocking in?
— Evil Skippy
To put what I am about to say into context, watch the clip. OK, you can watch it again. I’ll wait.
In general, I think most of us would agree that sending a stripper to the workplace would be what is known in the employment law world as a Truly Bad Idea. However, this was not a stripper. This was a guy in his underwear who looks more amazing than most of us can even dream of being, even though “looks” are not actually important. It’s what’s inside that counts. Really. Looks fade (and for some of us, more rapidly than for others).
It is just my opinion, but the surprise visit by Ellen’s underwear model was practically wholesome. It seemed to me that the employee who was “mortified” was actually having a fun time despite the embarrassment. I saw her sneaking more than one peek even though she was hiding her eyes.
Fun at work is important to having a great workplace. Laughing is important, too. I understand some people might feel uncomfortable to be surprised by a guy in his underwear, but “uncomfortable” is not the same as “harassment”. A one-time visit from Ellen’s ambassador should be the highlight of the workday instead of someone’s litigation trump card.
I suppose if I ran the business that hosted Ellen’s model, I would tell any offended employee that I am truly sorry that this bothered them and promise that I will never host another one of Ellen’s underwear models again. (It’s an easy promise to make – what are the chances that Ellen would prank you twice?) An event like this is entertainment and a diversion, not a sexcapade. I agree that a daily dose of scantily clad men and/or women at work would be a problem (unless you are employed by for a company that publishes underwear catalogs). However, Ellen’s surprise was clearly a one-time thing and it was also clear that the office workers had a great time.
Almost everything that might happen in a workplace will offend someone. If a company adopts a policy of never doing anything that might offend a single person, then that company will never be able to do a thing. There is always someone who will be offended. For example, if you put up a poster of adorable puppies, some wing nut will be offended that you did not include kittens.
The harassment standard is that employers should prevent situations or conduct that offends reasonable people. It is a shifting standard as values and attitudes evolve – but it is workable. Once upon a time, being able to see a woman’s ankle was considered inappropriate. Then, a “reasonable” person of that day would be stunned to see a woman in a short skirt. Today, a short skirt is more modest than some other accepted clothing options.
Here’s my bottom line. A great workplace will also (at times) be a fun workplace. The visit from Ellen’s hunky ambassador clearly looked fun and the model did not cross any lines in my humble opinion. Heck, if I had that body, I’d be showing it off, too. I don’t have that body, so you’re all safe.
Dearest readers – am I wrong? Was the visit inappropriate? Tell me what you think.