Matt Lauer,  had a bag of sex toys in his office. It's one of the many complaints against him. But do you know who also liked to play practical jokes with sex toys and hasn't been vilified or fired?

Bryan Cranston.

Shocked? No one has said one bad word about the star of Breaking Bad. Well, no one needs to because he said it himself. In an interview with AMC Cranston told a "funny story."

We all have a lot of fun. You pull some practical jokes from time to time. For the episode where one of Jesse's guys gets ripped off, I go to his house and I pull out a gun and put it on the counter and say, "I want you to handle it." Well, props had a dildo, and I'm all serious and Aaron didn't know so I'm looking at him and I pull out the dildo and say, "I want you to handle it." He looks down and sees that and it's all over. [Laughs]

Why isn't Cranston's head the next in line for removal? This seems like a clear case of sexual harassmentIn another interview, Cranston said:

There's nothing like a dildo to break the tension. I've found that's true in most situations...I just think they're funny. And I think it's important to examine the tension levels or anxiety levels or exhaustion levels of your cast and crew. Sometimes a release is exactly what they need to propel them through the rest of the day and get work done.

It's all good, though, because not only does Cranston use sex toys as practical jokes on set, he also moons his co-workers:

The very last shot we did for Breaking Bad - a flashback of Aaron and me cooking meth together--I'm wearing an apron. I'm supposed to turn away from him at one point, and I happen to be in sweats. So while they're setting up the shot, I kind of wiggle out of the sweats. I'm wearing the apron, so he doesn't even notice. But then we start shooting, and I turn around and just flash him my ass.

This behavior seems really problematic, although to a lesser extent than the Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey cases, but regardless of the horrors here, people are calling for an end on office romance. 

It's not romance that is the problem. It's not even dating (which in this day an age tends to refer to a sexual relationship, not just going to dinner and a movie) that is problematic. (Although, I will say that you should have a strict policy against people dating their direct reports.) It's genuine bad behavior.

In order for something to be considered sexual harassment, it has to meet three conditions:

  1. The behavior must be either severe or pervasive.
  2. The victim must be offended.
  3. A reasonable person must find the behavior offensive.

It's that second point that allowed NBC executives to hide their head in the sand regarding Matt Lauer's bad behavior. As long as no victim complained, it wasn't "technically" sexual harassment. This is also what allowed Cranston to play "jokes" on his co-workers. No complaints doesn't mean the behavior is appropriate.

Here's the thing: Appalling behavior should be considered sexual harassment even if the direct victim doesn't complain. You, in your company, need to have a bright line that cannot be crossed, no matter who thinks it is funny. Remember, a co-worker who laughs at your bad behavior may be laughing to cover up her horror and protect her own job. 

Our sexual harassment crisis has nothing to do with dating problems or compliment problems. A friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, penned the following:

"It's to the point where men can't even pay a compliment to a woman because they'll get fired."

That, my friends, is bullsh*t. There's no other word for it.

First, if you're saying that, I'd love to know exactly how many people you've personally fired for "paying a compliment." I'm going to guess that number is pretty low. I spent 14 years in HR, and I investigated more sexual harassment claims than I can count. This is a thing where I actually know something. Specifically, I know that's bullsh*t.

Now, you might know someone who got fired for "paying a compliment." I know someone like that. His wife called me and several other people up, and threatened us, because we fired her husband for "paying a compliment." You know what? She was right. She said that the dirtbag said, "That's a great skirt on you." Of course, he left out the part where he said, "...and I'd love to bend you over this desk and..." [I'm sorely tempted to type out the rest of what he said, but I know some of you are delicate, so I won't...but it's an act that is probably illegal in Utah or something.] And he said that sort of thing to her on a daily basis. This woman had to listen to that for months before she got up the nerve to say something. We fired him.

Here's another truth: If you're not actually sexually harassing anyone, you're probably fine. I've seen false claims (they're very rare, but it does happen). They fall apart, because there's no evidence. Firing people isn't actually that much fun, and it earns you a whole lot of anger and judgment and drama. Nobody likes doing it (unless they're on a reality TV show where their catchphrase is literally "You're fired" and then they go on to be president, but that's rare). That means if you're not a dirtbag, you're probably safe. If you're not a dirt bag and you're still not safe, you work for terrible people and should find a new job.

It's time to stop allowing dirtbag behavior. It's not the time to heavily monitor your employees. Yes, there is potential for relationships to sour and yes, there is a potential abuse of power when a boss dates a direct report, but overall, that's not the problem, so let's stop saying that will fix it. 

Published on: Dec 6, 2017