Even a single incident of overt sexual harassment can become the basis for a sex discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit. Warn all supervisors and managers: Keep your hands off your subordinates—and your lips, too!
And consider a strict rule against any sort of personal or romantic relationship between supervisors and subordinates.
Recent case: Katherine worked for a law firm for a few months before she became a victim of domestic violence away from work. She was physically and emotionally hurt in the incident, and she confided in her supervisor and others at the law firm.
Shortly after informing her supervisor about the incident, he invited her out to a bar after work, ostensibly to discuss her career plans. Once there, the conversation quickly went beyond career advice. The supervisor allegedly began stroking her hand in a sexually suggestive fashion. Katherine got up to leave, but he pulled her to him and tried to kiss her. She again pulled away, but he managed to kiss her neck. She finally broke free, ran out and never returned to work again.
Katherine sued, alleging sex discrimination and sexual harassment.
The law firm argued that, even if true, the incident wasn’t severe enough to constitute sexual harassment, and it certainly wasn’t sex discrimination.
The judge didn’t agree and said the case could move forward. One incident involving forced touching can be enough to create a hostile work environment. There was no doubt in the judge’s mind that sex was a motivating factor in the kiss. The judge also noted the incident might have been traumatic enough to force a reasonable person to quit. (Pryor v. Jaffe & Asher, No. 13 Civ. 4558, SD NY, 2014)
- You can prohibit uncivil language as well as obviously offensive speech
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- Requests for accommodation must be reasonable
- Show fairness by documenting all rule violations, discipline
- Tough economic times may mean more failure-to-promote suits