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Family Employers Must Set Standards To Prevent Sexual Harassment

Two former employees and a former contractor have sued a billionaire hologram producer for sexual harassment.

A former account executive at an internet-based television provider owned by the billionaire alleged in her lawsuit that he picked her up by the ankles so that her underwear was exposed and walked her around the office upside down; played an offensive video on her computer; and brought a male stripper into the office for a female executive's birthday.

A woman who worked as an independent comedy writer in 2015 and again in 2016 at another company owned by the billionaire, is suing the man as well. She said that he put his hands around her throat in the workplace twice and talked about getting supplies for his "rape room." She alleges that in September 2016, he called her into his office, closed the blinds and the door, and exposed his genitals. He then allegedly called in a male sales executive into the office and claimed that she was performing a sex act on him. He later allegedly demanded that she accompany him to his hotel room. The former contractor said she left and never returned.

A woman who alleged the billionaire terminated her for not having sex with him won $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages earlier in the year. "Billionaire Fined Nearly $10K For Courtroom Outbursts" (Aug. 27, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Obvious illegal behaviors described in the article should never be allowed; however, even less outrageous forms of conduct can result in sexual harassment and/or sexual assault claims.

First, take care to use respectful language. Moreover, limit physical touches in the workplace to professional greetings. Discourage dating between staff and prohibit personal relationships between family management and subordinates. 

Closely monitor how your guests treat your staff. Family employers can be held liable for the bad acts of guests against your staff. Make sure staff know how to report unwelcomed conduct from any source.

Family employers can follow these tips for avoiding sexual harassment risk:

  • Always conduct yourself with respect for others.
  • Keep all physical contact professional.
  • If you spot someone being disrespectful or using foul language, correct them in a private and timely manner.
  • When you observe sexually harassing conduct or staff complains of inappropriate behavior, immediately have the incident investigated and take appropriate remedial actions.
  • Never retaliate against staff for reporting harassing behavior or other forms of misconduct. 
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