Category Archives: Sexual Harassment

Corporate Liability for Employee Actions, Quirky Question # 112

Quirky Question # 112:

We are interested in expanding and diversifying our business in Alaska and are looking at acquiring and operating assisted-living facilities.  Although this is a logical spin-off from our primary business, we do not have any actual experience in this area.  We are attempting to sort through numerous issues related to the operation of these facilities.

We are concerned about local and national news stories detailing patient abuse by employees in such facilities.  Our initial thought is that we should not be responsible for the intentional conduct of our employees in such situations.  However, the tenor of the news reports has us re-thinking that view.  Can you provide any guidance?  We are interested in expanding and diversifying our business in Alaska and are looking at acquiring and operating assisted living facilities.  Although this is a logical spin-off from our primary business, we do not have any actual experience in this area.  We are attempting to sort through numerous issues related to the operation of these facilities.  We are concerned about local and national news stories detailing patient abuse by employees in such facilities.  Our initial thought is that we should not be responsible for the intentional conduct of our employees in such situations.  However, the tenor of the news reports has us re-thinking that view.  Can you provide any guidance? Answer→

Who’s a Supervisor?, Quirky Question # 102

Quirky Question # 102:

We’ve tried hard to institute and enforce an effective sexual harassment policy.  Nevertheless, we still occasionally receive sexual harassment complaints from some of our employees.  Recently, an employee sued us for sexual harassment.  She claimed that she reported the harassment to a relatively low level supervisor and that he failed to take any action in response to her complaint.  She said the harassment intensified after her report.We did not even know she complained.  The “supervisor” (who does not have any hiring or firing authority) never said anything to anyone, let alone someone in our HR Department.  If anyone who truly is in management had been apprised of this problem, we would have investigated and, if appropriate, addressed the issue.  Our employee’s attorney claims that the knowledge of our low level supervisor is imputed to the company.  Can this be right? Answer→

Sexual Harassment, Ancient Info, Quirky Question # 82

Quirky Question # 82:

I am the HR director for a mid-sized company.  A number of years ago, one of our employees complained about sexual harassment from a senior executive in the Company.  We investigated and found corroboration for a number of her allegations.  The investigation also revealed that other employees had been mistreated by the executive.

We addressed the situation at that time, though we did not terminate the executive.  Nevertheless, I thought the issues were behind us.  Now, the same employee has filed a new complaint against the same executive.  She’s dragging in all of the issues that arose more than five years ago.  Can she do that?  I’m not a lawyer but I thought referencing these kinds of ancient problems was barred by the statute of limitations?  The complaining employee also has stated somewhat vaguely that she also may assert “common law claims.’  (Sounds to me like she has lawyered up.)  What might these claims be?  Your guidance is appreciated. Answer→

Scope of Relief in Sexual Harassment Cases, Quirky Question # 67

Quirky Question # 67:

We have a sexual harassment problem at our company.  I’ll spare you the grim details but let’s just say it’s an ugly situation, involving several members of management.  No physical contact or assaultive behavior but some widespread hostile environment issues.  Among other behaviors, for example, our managers apparently thought it perfectly appropriate to entertain clients at strip joints.  I’m trying to get my hands around the situation so I can report to our executive team.  Can you give me any sense of the risks we confront so I can provide our executives with a realistic appraisal of the situation? Answer→

Punitive Damages for Sexual Harassment, Quirky Question # 56

Quirky Question # 56:

Our company is committed to eliminating sexual harassment.  We have a well-defined sexual harassment policy that is included in our employee handbook.  We also have conducted training sessions on a bi-annual basis to ensure our employees understand our company’s position on sexual harassment.

Some time ago, one of our employees complained of sexual harassment.  For various reasons (including the timing of her complaint, our company’s hectic schedule at the time, and her lack of persistence), her complaint fell through the cracks.  She now has sued our company and included a claim for punitive damages.  Given our commitment to eliminating sexual harassment (as reflected by our well-established policy), we do not have any risk of a punitive damages award, do we? Answer→

Sexual Harassment — Activities Outside the Workplace, Quirky Question # 32

Quirky Question # 32:

I am an attorney in the Law Department of an advertising agency.  I recently learned in a roundabout way that one of our female employees is a motorcycle enthusiast.  For the last few years, she has taken time off from work to attend the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.  This year, someone at work was surfing the Web and looked at various Sturgis websites.  (I’ve since learned that there are more than 1000 Sturgis websites, many of which contain photos.)  Our employee was pictured in photos on a number of the Sturgis websites and in many of them she is not wearing much (if any) clothing.  Some of the photos are quite suggestive.

One of our employees downloaded several of the photos and circulated them via email to other employees in our office.  One employee is using one of the pics as the “wallpaper” on his computer.  A number of our employees have been asking our Sturgis enthusiast about her experience and what “really goes on at Sturgis,”  Not all of the questions are in good taste.  Other employees (mostly, but not exclusively, male) have been teasing our employee quite a bit (sometimes crudely) about her Sturgis trip.  She recently reported to me that she finds their comments both offensive and irritating.  My initial reaction was “What did you expect?”, but I did not express that sentiment to her.  I’ve informally asked some of the guys to tone it down, but I’m not sure I’m getting through to them.  What recommendations would you make regarding how this should be handled? Answer→

Non-Fraternization Policies, Quirky Question # 30

Quirky Question # 30:

We are a large, national, medical device company.  Over the years, we’ve adopted personnel policies to provide appropriate guidance to our workforce and to comply with federal and state laws.  We have a well defined and clear sexual harassment policy.  Notwithstanding our sexual harassment policy, we find that we periodically confront workplace problems associated with relationships among co-workers that fall apart.  (We’ve had this happen with married couples going through a divorce, as well as couples who were just dating.)  These situations are exasperating.  Consequently, our company is considering adopting a broad “Non-Fraternization” policy, prohibiting relationships between employees.  Is this a good idea or will we be plagued with enforcement problems? Answer→