What is sexual harassment? That question was far easier to answer 30 or 40 years ago; back then unwelcomed touching, sexual innuendo, talk of a sexual nature in front of co-workers and most important, any of these occurring between a boss and an employee. As the number of females in the workforce grew, so did the incidence of inappropriate communication.

Today the language of sexual harassment laws is much broader. The amended version of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 demonstrates just how ludicrous it has become:

It is illegal to harass an employee because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

It is also illegal to harass someone because they have complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Harassment can take the form of slurs, graffiti, offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct. Sexual harassment (including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other conduct of a sexual nature) is also unlawful. Although the law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal if it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or if it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Harassment outside of the workplace may also be illegal if there is a link with the workplace. For example, if a supervisor harasses an employee while driving the employee to a meeting.

The sexual harassment net is now broad enough that it allows tremendous personal latitude on the alleged victim’s part. What may be offensive to you might just slide off the back of another individual. Harassment need not be of a sexual nature; should your boss lambaste you for screwing up your job that might well fall into the category of derogatory comments.

If you were the male boss in a mixed-sex work environment and commented on how nice one of the lady’s hairdos was, one employee may appreciate the comment, while another may be offended. Worse yet if you routinely complimented the opposite sex on their appearance, you’re screwed.

In the business world we’re now taught to walk on eggshells in fear that a few innocuous words could be the express-lane to unemployment; it shouldn’t be this hard.

Very few bosses, when warned that their actions were not welcomed, given this litigious society, wouldn’t back down. While that might not have been the case in the 1960s, we’ve certainly had it drummed into us the last 50 years.

What we don’t know, and likely will never know, is whether Herman Cain’s alleged harassment was addressed by the employees in question. Cain seems like a smart enough man, having run several large corporations before joining the National Restaurant Association that if someone told him that his words or actions were offensive or unwelcomed that he would immediately apologize and would cease and desist. If not, it’s doubtful he would’ve succeeded in the business world for the prior 35 years. Most likely there would’ve been a long chain of inappropriate sexual behavior reports.

Not to assign dishonest motives to any of the alleged victims, but one most at least consider whether one or more of them intended to put the squeeze on the National Restaurant Association; at the same time there must be an assumption of innocence granted to Mr. Cain. News reports state that one of the women that made a claim received $45,000 and the other received $35,000; hardly earth-shattering sums. If there was solid evidence that Mr. Cain, the head of the National Restaurant Association, an organization with very deep pockets, felt that the claims were valid the settlements would’ve dwarfed what we’re hearing. Large organizations routinely pay off claimants to avoid the bad press and high cost of a legal defense; well evidenced charges demand much more significant payouts.

Could Herman Cain have screwed up? Perhaps. It’s just as likely that, as he states, the charges were baseless, and he’s the victim of a hatchet job. Politico published the charges to get their “scoop,” yet with no substantiation, other than a he-said/she-said scenario, where did responsible journalism go? Even one of the Politico authors revealed that one of the accusers of Herman Cain admitted it was "nothing overtly sexual". Sounds a lot like a hit-job.