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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has brought this area of the law back into the center of public attention.
After a nearly five-month independent investigation involving interviews of 179 people by two outside attorneys -- charging $750 an hour -- the New York Atty. Gen.’s office concluded that 11 women were telling the truth when they claimed Gov. Cuomo had touched them inappropriately, commented on their appearance or make suggestive comments about their sex lives.
Several allegations included touching by the governor, including groping an aide’s breasts and running his hand or fingers across a state trooper’s stomach and back. Cuomo claims that “the facts are much different than what has been portrayed.”
Are you prepared to properly deal with a harassment complaint in your workplace?
The good news is that employers can take many measures to mitigate damages and embarrassing litigation.
The law is clear that you have a duty to investigate complaints of inappropriate workplace behavior and conduct based on a protected class status, and thereafter take prompt and appropriate corrective action.
You may have a duty to investigate even if you do not receive a complaint.
For example, if you receive information -- rumors, gossip of unwelcome conduct -- that gives you some knowledge of a problem, then you have a duty to investigate.
The law also holds employers accountable when the conduct was so obvious the employer “should have known.”
A prudent employer will have a well-written plan prohibiting harassment and retaliation with multiple channels for reporting complaints, need-to-know confidentiality assurances and protections against retaliation for victims and witnesses.
Moreover, the employer must give appropriate training to employees and management about its policy, and the obligations of employees and management in maintaining a harassment-free workplace.
When was the last time you reviewed and reissued your policy? When was the last time you conducted training for employees and your management?
Should you do something before the company's holiday parties, one of the most likely times harassment will occur?
Following such best practices now comes at a critical time when victims of sexual harassment are beginning to speak out about their encounters, call out violators and express the need for proactive prevention.
Wilford H. Stone is a lawyer with Lynch Dallas in Cedar Rapids.