Sexual harassment in the workplace is an emotional, legal, and political hot-button issue. In recent months, there have been countless instances of harassment victims coming forward to report allegations of misconduct, and these reports have led to widespread scrutiny over workplace harassment policies and laws.
In fact, lawmakers in Minnesota are proposing a change to the definition of sexual harassment in response to legal claims, including those against state politicians and high-profile figures.
The small, but significant, proposed change
As reported by sources like MinnPost, the proposed change would nullify the requirement that a person filing a harassment claim show that the conduct was severe and pervasive enough to either create a hostile work environment, or to threaten a person’s employment. The “severe and pervasive” standard is often what prevents a person’s claim from being heard in court because it is very difficult to clear this high and subjective threshold, even when the harassment seems obvious.
What does the future hold?
If lawmakers approve the change, this new perspective on the issue would have a considerable impact on future harassment claims. It would likely make it easier for alleged victims to bring their case to court. It could also make it that much more important for employers to take every report of harassment seriously, as isolated incidents could potentially support a legal claim.
We will continue to follow any developments in this story and provide any pertinent updates.
In the meantime, employers should understand the importance of having a clearly defined written sexual harassment policy in their employee handbooks. If they don’t have one, they should strongly consider getting one; if they already have one, they should make sure it is updated. Employers should also be sure to investigate every complaint and take appropriate action when necessary. Should any questions or concerns arise, employers would be wise to consult an attorney familiar with state and federal employment laws.