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What's an employer's obligation dealing with sexual harassment?

If you are planning to open a one-person business in Pittsburgh, you might not need to worry too much about the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. If you have a team of people around you, however, that's another story. Business planning that addresses the broad scope of issues is necessary, including establishing employment policies and assigning consequences in cases of sexual harassment.

Whether you hire full or part-time employees or engage independent contractors in your business, there are laws that you need to comply with to protect your workers. In addition to that, you want to avoid the hassle and costly loss of goodwill that can occur when harassment allegations arise.

The necessity of employer vigilance

Considering the headlines that have splashed across the internet news outlets in recent weeks, it's apparent that issues surrounding sexual harassment are coming front and center. The spotlight is not dim in Pennsylvania, either. As PennLive.com recently reported, there are issues at the State Capitol as well.

Something that should also raise the awareness of current and prospective employers is a recent federal court decision out of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In the matter of Jones v. Pennsylvania State Police, a female trooper is claiming that two corporals in her chain of command failed to take prompt action when they were aware, or should have been aware, of harassment by a fellow trooper. To be clear, the alleged misconduct was brought to a halt, but the claimant alleges that it went on for nearly a year before that happened.

In the course of the discovery phase of the case, the PSP noted that it had acted to end the harassment and asked the court for summary judgment. But the court ruled there is a question of fact for a trial to determine about whether the two corporals were management-level employees and whether they acted promptly enough.

The takeaway from the decision, according to legal observers, is that while the law appears clear on what constitutes sexual harassment, there still can be questions about what constitutes proper and timely management response. This requires employers to remain vigilant which means working with experienced legal counsel, like those at Kisner Law Firm, to create a proactive plan to help prevent and defend against harassment and contacting your legal team if questions do arise. 

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