Employees offer an array of creative excuses when trying
to defend their actions in what is known as a hostile work
environment harassment case.
Excuse #1: “…but there was no bad intent.”
HR CONTRARIAN POINTER: Many people mistakenly assume that
actions have to have a bad intent or purpose to be legally
actionable. Intent is one of the considerations.
However, effect or impact on another person is also the
basis for a harassment claim.
Examples: Employees may feel that bringing a noose into
the workplace or mimicking an immigrant’s accent were not
done with any harmful intent. However, the effect on
another person can be the basis of a lawsuit.
NOTE: There are situations where an innocent comment can
be taken as bad intent. A male worker tells a female
employee, “You look nice today.” But the female worker
interprets the word “nice” for “hot” and files a
In such gray cases, the absence of bad intent can be a
mitigating circumstance that reduces a suspension to a
mere verbal caution. However, the company also needs to
consider other factors which may not mitigate the
discipline such as prior warnings, attendance at
harassment training, the supervisory status of the person,