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The Mistake of a Business Owner in Ignoring Sexual Harassment

Hypothetical: Jordan owes Jordan’s Construction, Inc. She hired her first employee the first day she started her business. She did not consult with a business attorney or a human resources consultant. There was no time. The business needed to start immediately, and she couldn’t take the time to “dot the i’s” or “cross the t’s.”  This was her third business and she had never had any problems.  She had 10 employees.  Two of them were supervisors. One of them Chris was a flirt. Chris’s behavior was well-known, but in the construction industry, “it was acceptable.” A new employee, Sam started working and Chris was her immediate supervisor. Chris sent Sam pictures of “his junk” and repeatedly asked her out. Sam started to come in late to work. There was no policy regarding sexual harassment. Sam quit and filed for unemployment. Jordan was shocked.

Jordan seeks legal advice from a business attorney.  Jordan is taken back when the business attorney informs her that Jordan’s Constructions, Inc.’s defense that Sam was a “bad employee” who came in late to work all of the time (but was never spoken to or disciplined for this behavior – which was related to the harassment by Chris), Sam never complained about Chris, and was often seen laughing and chatting with Chris was most likely not going to be a winnable defense. Also, the fact that Jordan did not personally believe it was a big deal because she “had worse happen to me and never complained – you just ignore it” was also not a viable defense, and most likely would backfire on the company. In addition, Jordan was shocked when the business attorney told Jordan that employers are generally strictly liable for harassment committed by immediate supervisors. As a result, Jordan was informed that Jordan’s Construction, Inc. should anticipate that a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights/EEOC or a lawsuit would be forthcoming.

The business attorney outlined to Jordan the employer’s responsibility. Jordan needs to take the lead in letting her employees know that sexual harassment will not be tolerated at her company.  She needs to be sincere and authentic in her statements. Since Jordan’s Construction, Inc. is clearly on notice about sexual harassment happening at work, an investigation should be immediately commenced. In addition, a sexual harassment policy and training has to be implemented promptly. Furthermore, the corporation needed to inform its commercial insurance company about a potential claim.

Spangler and de Stefano, PLLP assists business owners with employment matters. Just because you never had a complaint before does not mean that a complaint isn’t going to happen in the future. It is imperative that you protect your business by being proactive and making certain that you are following best practices when it comes to employment matters.

The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Spangler and de Stefano, PLLP and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.