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Reasonable Person Standard

'Reasonable person standard' in cases of sexual harassment is absolutely critical in order for any company to tackle sexual harassment in their respective workplace. Without applying this standard to any allegation of sexual harassment, employers run the risk of allowing their own subjective opinions to potentially force a sexual harassment claim into the courtroom. This can result in hefty legal fees, bad publicity in a social media age and crippling amounts of compensation to the victim.

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What is 'Reasonable Person Standard'?

The 'reasonable person standard' is a legal term often used in cases of sexual harassment. In layman's terms, it refers to a hypothetically reasonable person with a reasonable way of interpreting and reacting to a situation of sexual harassment. In all instances this reasonable person is assumed to exercise 'average' care, skill and judgement.

As such when a case of alleged sexual harassment is presented before a court, the 'reasonable person standard' is often applied to the case to determine whether if the same alleged sexual harassment happened to a hypothetically reasonable person, would the reasonable person have reacted to it in a similar or different way to the actual alleged victim? Moreover if, hypothetically speaking, the same alleged sexual harassment was dealt with by a reasonable person in a position of management or leadership, would that same reasonable manager have reacted and dealt with the alleged sexual harassment in a similar or different way to the actual manager or leadership team who dealt with the actual case of alleged sexual harassment?

In short the 'reasonable person standard' is an effective way of dealing with sexual harassment cases because it takes personalities and bias out of the equation. By applying it to any accusation of sexual harassment, the standard forces a court or indeed a workplace to determine whether in any other instance with any other reasonable person, would the offending sexual harassment be interpreted as sexual harassment by a 'reasonable person'.

Depending upon the answer that the 'reasonable person standard' forces a court or workplace to make, the overall look of the case can be drastically altered.

Examples of 'Reasonable Person Standard'

Oftentimes when 'reasonable person standard' is applied to any case of sexual harassment there are consequences which can mean that the victim's or manager's interpretation of the alleged sexual harassment is deemed 'unreasonable' or wholly 'reasonable'. Cases can be upheld or collapse because of the reasonable person standard. Examples can include:

Bystander intervention

Example 1

An employee who is hugged by another colleague for many years, then the two fall out and the employee makes a complaint of sexual harassment. In this example, by applying 'reasonable person standard' a hypothetically reasonable person would not interpret the hugging as sexual harassment because they had been hugged, and had welcomed and reciprocated the hugging, for many years without ever complaining about it. The fact that the employee and the colleague have fallen out with each other would be deemed as the basis for the allegation, rather than a genuine grievance of sexual harassment.


Example 2

Another example could be an employee is hugged by a boss. The employee does not like to be hugged and has not welcomed being hugged and consequently makes an allegation of sexual harassment. By applying 'reasonable person standard' it would make sense that a reasonable person would equally find the situation of being hugged by a boss as wholly inappropriate and sexually harassing. Therefore the employee would be deemed a victim of sexual harassment.

Supervisor doing an employee review


In summary, by applying the same 'reasonable person standard' of the courtroom to an allegation of workplace sexual harassment, companies can make decisions about the next steps needed to deal with the allegation with confidence. It is an excellent tool in being able to determine whether the allegation is indeed reasonable, and serves as an accurate measure of whether the allegation has the potential to go out of the workplace and into a courtroom. Equally it removes the inherent bias and opinions managers might have against the person making the allegation, and asks everyone involved to determine whether hypothetically speaking the allegation of sexual harassment would be made by any other reasonable person. If the answer is yes, then employers have no choice but to act and act swiftly.

If you or your place of work require further advice regarding 'reasonable person standard' then head over to for more information. EasyLlama is a modern online training platform providing organizations and companies with world leading education, advice and support on how to combat workplace sexual harassment.

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