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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his supporters have suggested that the now-notorious 2005 conversation made public by the Washington Post on Friday—in which Trump is heard making sexually explicit comments about women while TV personality Billy Bush eggs him on—was typical of the kind of harmless “locker room talk” in which men engage in all the time.
But make no mistake: The kind of lewd talk heard in the video could get you fired in many work environments—even if the remarks aren’t about the person being spoken to.
What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace varies, but as the AAUW notes, it includes behaviors like “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, direct or indirect threats or bribes for sexual activity, sexual innuendos and comments, sexually suggestive jokes, unwelcome touching or brushing against a person,” among others. These can be made by a manager, a colleague, or a third party, like a client or customer.
Trump’s comments fall into several of those categories.
Maya Raghu, director of workplace equality at the National Women’s Law Center, says this is not mere “locker room talk.” If similar comments were made in the workplace “it could be considered sexual harassment, and the employer could be held liable,” she said. Depending on your company’s policy when it comes to dealing with harassment, you could be fired.
Even if the comments are, for example, spoken by a man to another man about a woman, they can constitute harassment if a) that man reports them or b) they are overheard by someone who reports them. In this case, what happens to the harasser would depend on company policy, according to Raghu. “Ideally a company would take all sexual harassment seriously regardless of to whom the comments were made,” she says.
But only the employer—not an individual employee—could be held liable under federal law.
It’s important to point out that Raghu is talking about Trump’s comments—not the actions he describes in those comments, which would constitute not just workplace sexual harassment, but assault. Those actions would be illegal whether or not you’re at work.
To foster a more respectful work environment, Raghu says companies need to take proactive steps to change their culture, starting at the top. Managers should continually reinforce these messages, and training should be offered so workers know how to address these situations if and when they occur—so they don’t wind up like Billy Bush.
“It means even high-level executives or employees are not exempt from accountability for such behavior,” she says. “It can mean that co-workers are empowered to step forward when they see something happen and call out that behavior, and report it.”
Raghu says allies are critical to effecting change around these issues—especially men challenging the behavior of other men.
“Someone in that situation could express disapproval of the remarks or behavior when it happens, or express support for the target,” says Raghu. She also recommends reporting the behavior to someone at your company as soon as it happens.
“Of course a person may be afraid of jeopardizing their own job if they speak up,” she continues. “That’s why it’s so important for companies to have several ways for people to report sexual harassment, to encourage people to come forward when they see something, and ensure that the report will be taken seriously.”
This is not Trump’s first brush with allegations of workplace sexual harassment. More then 20 people who worked on his NBC show The Apprentice detailed the presidential candidate’s sexually explicit comments to female staff members and contestants to the AP. One crew member recalled,
If you feel that you are being harassed in the workplace, here’s what to do.