What is the 'Reasonable Person Standard'?

What is the '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 judgment.

Reasonable Person Standard' Defined

Reasonable Person Standard' Defined

When a case of alleged sexual harassment is presented before a court, the 'reasonable person standard' is often applied to the case to determine the following: if the same alleged sexual harassment happened to a hypothetically reasonable person, would the reasonable person have reacted in a similar way to the alleged victim? Moreover, if the same alleged sexual harassment was dealt with by a reasonable person in a position of management or leadership, would that reasonable manager have reacted and dealt with the alleged sexual harassment in a similar or different way when compared to management’s response?

'Reasonable Person Standard' Explanation

'Reasonable Person Standard' Explanation

In short, the 'reasonable person standard' is an effective way of dealing with sexual harassment cases because it takes personalities and biases out of the equation. This standard forces a court or workplace to determine if harassment has occured by asking: 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 implications of the case can be drastically altered.

Examples of 'Reasonable Person Standard'

Oftentimes when the 'reasonable person standard' is applied to any case of sexual harassment, there are consequences that 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 collapsed because of the reasonable person standard. Examples can include:

Example 1

An employee 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 was sexual harassment because they had hugged before, and the complainant 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 being 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.

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