Responding to sexual harassment complaints: Effects of a dissolved workplace romance on decision-making standards

Pierce, Charles A., Broberg, Brandee J., McClure, James R., and Aguinis, Herman
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Vol. 95, Issue 1, Pages 66-82

We introduce and provide support for an ethical decision-making framework as an explanation for the social-cognitive process through which observers make decisions about a sexual harassment complaint that stems from a prior workplace romance. We conducted two experiments to examine effects of features of a dissolved hierarchical workplace romance and subsequent harassing behavior on raters’ responses to a sexual harassment complaint. In Experiment 1, results based on a sample of 217 employees indicate that their attributions of responsibility for the harassment mediated the link between their knowledge of features of the romance and three recommended personnel actions. In Experiment 2, results based on a sample of 258 members of the Society for Human Resource Management indicate that their degree of recognition of the accused’s social-sexual behavior as immoral mediated the link between their knowledge of features of the romance and harassment and their attributions of responsibility. Raters’ attributions of responsibility, in turn, predicted three recommended personnel actions. We discuss theoretical and practical implications from an ethical decision-making perspective.