Employer Harassment Liability isn’t Confined to the Office

man pursuing female coworker
January 11, 2018

With news stories breaking involving allegations of sexual harassment, employers are – or should be – thinking of proactive methods to prevent sexual harassment in their workplace.

Many businesses in Michigan and beyond are updating their harassment policies and rolling out handbook updates as 2018 gets started. Having a comprehensive but concise and understandable sexual harassment policy is a great tool for employers of all sizes, and may provide a valuable affirmative defense if a harassment allegation turns into a federal or state lawsuit. 

Now is also a great time for employers to note the complexities and variances in harassment cases. In general, sexual harassment occurs when an individual is subjected to unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that creates a hostile work environment. What is unknown by many is that sexual harassment can occur on and off company property, with company employees or third-parties, and even on social media. And, the law does not limit an employer’s liability for sexual harassment just to conduct that occurs within the confines of the traditional “office.” Numerous published decisions from Michigan and federal courts include allegations of improper behavior that occurred at a company party or off-site dinner.

If you have not taken an opportunity to review your company’s harassment policies and procedures in light of the onslaught of allegations and growing #MeToo campaign, now is the time. A quick policy and procedure review and harassment training program is a way to boost employee morale and emphasize the company’s intolerance for illegal discrimination and harassment – and will certainly help your company start 2018 on the right foot.

Contributed by Courtney Nichols of Plunkett Cooney.