November 2, 2011

Raising Cain: HR lessons from the political battlefield

Posted in Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Gender / Sex, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment tagged , , , at 10:22 am by Tom Jacobson

Allegations that presidential hopeful Herman Cain sexually harassed employees while he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990’s have sent his campaign into damage control mode (see Herman Cain denies allegations of sexual harassment, Cain says he was “falsely accused” of harassment, Herman Cain reacts to allegations, etc.).  How these allegations will ultimately impact his bid for the White House remains to be seen, but the story gives us a chance to reflect again on the overall problem of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment has been recognized as a form of unlawful sex discrimination since the 1980’s, but it continues to be a problem in the workplace.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that in 2010 there were 11,717 charges of sexual harassment filed nationwide.  According to the EEOC’s statistics, these charges resulted in $48.4 million in benefits paid, excluding money recovered in litigation.  Of  course, this also does not account for the tremendous expense and disruption that results from investigating and resolving these charges, nor does it account for the countless complaints that are undoubtedly raised and resolved internally by employers each year.

The first step in combating the problem is gaining an understanding of what sexual harassment is.  In Minnesota, the state legislature has defined sexual harassment in the workplace to include:

 …unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature when:

(1) submission to that conduct or communication is made a term or condition, either explicitly or implicitly, of obtaining employment …;

(2) submission to or rejection of that conduct or communication by an individual is used as a factor in decisions affecting that individual’s employment …; or

(3) that conduct or communication has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s employment…, or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive employment … environment.

The federal definition is similar, but knowing the definition is only part of the solution.  The definition should also be incorporated into written policies which, among other things, should expressly prohibit sexual harassment, outline what a victim should do if it occurs, and stress that no employee will be retaliated against for raising the issue.  Complaints need to be taken seriously, investigated properly, and resolved promptly and in a way that is likely to end the harassment. Education and training are also key components to preventing sexual harassment.

For more information about sexual harassment policies, investigations or anything else covered in this article, please contact me at

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA


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