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Keeping A Family Workplace Professional Helps Prevent Sexual Harassment Suits

In August 2019, nine women accused Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo of sexually harassing them for decades beginning in the 1980s. The following month, 11 additional individuals alleged he committed sexual harassment, including inappropriate comments and groping.

According to the American Guild of Musical Artists, the accusations led the guild to conduct an investigation, which recently determined that Domingo had committed sexual misconduct. The investigator concluded that he "engaged in inappropriate activity, ranging from flirtation to sexual advances, in and outside of the workplace."

According to the guild, many witnesses cited fear of retaliation in the industry as the reason they did not come forward sooner.

Domingo, who initially denied the allegations, recently issued an apology. He said that he takes full responsibility and has grown from the experience. 

As a result of the allegations, Domingo ended his professional relationship with The Metropolitan Opera in New York, which had lasted for 51 years, in September 2019. He resigned as director of the LA Opera the following month. The Dallas Opera canceled a performance scheduled for March 2020.

Two of his accusers and their attorney have called for the American Guild of Musical Artists to expel Domingo from the organization. The LA Opera is conducting its own investigation, which is ongoing. Jason Hanna and Joe Sutton "Plácido Domingo made inappropriate sexual advances in the workplace, musicians' union finds" cnn.com (Feb. 25, 2020).

Commentary and Checklist

Sexual harassment is unwelcomed sexual behavior. In the position of power, a family business leader occupies, any sexual advance that leader makes can be interpreted as not optional. Although a staff member may "consent" and participate in such a relationship, that does not mean the advance is welcomed. Subordinates often "consent" to unwelcomed advances out of fear of losing their job, but eventually, they or someone else will make a complaint.

To help avoid allegations of sexual harassment directed against you, always act with professionalism and respect toward your staff. The more you cultivate a culture of professional behavior, the more your staff will follow suit.

Always avoid making sexual jokes or talking about your or another's sex life. Keep relationships professional, by avoiding physical contact.

What other steps should family employers take to help limit sexual harassment risk?

·      Train your staff at least annually on sexual harassment prevention and boundary violations.

·      Take every complaint seriously.

·      Arrange for a third-party investigator to look into any allegations.

·      Take appropriate responsive steps.

·      Never retaliate against a staff member who makes a report of sexual harassment.

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