Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis & Lacy Pro Speak February 2018

Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

by Jenna E. Rousseau of  Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis & Lacy, s.c.  844.833.0830

At a time when sexual harassment claims are reported in the news almost daily, employers are reminded of the importance of having policies and procedures in place. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by state and federal law.

Under state law, “sexual harassment” means “unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favors, unwelcome physical contact of a sexual nature or unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” “Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” includes “deliberate, repeated making of unsolicited gestures or comments of a sexual nature; the deliberate, repeated display of offensive sexually graphic materials which is not necessary for business purposes; or deliberate verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, whether or not repeated, that is sufficiently severe to interfere substantially with an employee’s work performance or to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

There are three (3) forms of sexual harassment under state law, including sexual harassment by an employer (owner or agent in a position of responsibility), quid pro quo, and hostile environment. An employer is presumed liable for an act of sexual harassment by the employer, or by any of its employees, if the act occurs while the complaining employee is at work or performing work-related duties, he or she informs the employer, and the employer fails to take appropriate remedial action within a reasonable time.

Consequently, it is important for employers to adopt and communicate a policy prohibiting sexual harassment as well as to conduct regular training. Employers should also have procedures in place for reporting sexual harassment allegations (including an alternative reporting mechanism for complaints involving supervisors), and procedures for promptly investigating such allegations.

An employer generally has wide latitude to address allegations of sexual harassment, so long as its actions are reasonably calculated to remedy the situation and prevent future harassment. Depending on the severity of the conduct, an appropriate response might include modifications to employees’ work schedules, changing employees’ work shifts, additional training, and/or discipline, up to and including termination. By acting promptly to investigate and remedy the situation, an employer may avoid liability.

For advice and counsel as to how to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace, including training, contact Jenna Rousseau at (844) 833-0828 or jrousseau@strangpatteson.com.

Jenna Rousseau is a shareholder with Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis & Lacy, s.c. This article is intended to provide information only, not legal advice. For advice regarding a particular labor or employment situation, please contact the attorneys at Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis & Lacy, s.c.