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Respecting Boundaries Can Keep Family Employers Safe From Charges Of Sexual Misconduct

A woman sued celebrity chef Mario Batali for sexually assaulting her at a restaurant and bar in Boston in April 2017. The New York Police Department is investigating the charges.

The woman alleges Batali asked her if she would like to take a selfie with him, and she agreed. According to the lawsuit, the chef then "rubbed her breasts, kissed her repeatedly and groped her buttocks and groin area" when she came near him for the photo.

Batali faces other charges of sexual misconduct. In December 2017, four women, some of whom worked for Batali, alleged he touched them inappropriately. They further alleged he had been engaging in sexual misconduct for the past twenty years.

Following the allegations, Batali left his ABC daytime series "The Chew," and the Food Network cancelled plans to bring him back into its lineup. After police launched an investigation into the misconduct, Batali's restaurant group ended its partnership with him. Sandra Gonzalez "Mario Batali sued by woman who claims he groped her" (Aug. 24, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

The risk of sexual misconduct liability continues to climb, even for the rich and famous…just ask Mario Batali and Bill Cosby.

The risk for family employers is amplified because the work is performed in the home. To avoid the risk, family employers should set the tone with their words and conduct by requiring civility and respect. It is important to respect the boundaries of everyone in the workplace.

Your management staff, in particular, must also be committed to respecting boundaries because their illegal actions can cause you, as a family employer, to bear the liability.

Here are some additional tips for family employers to follow to help avoid sexual harassment liability:

  • Avoid commenting on a staff member's body, clothing, or appearance. A statement intended as a complement could be construed as inappropriate.
  • Do not make crude remarks or jokes.
  • Do not make sexual comments about other people, even your significant other, around staff.
  • Always conduct yourself with respect for others.
  • Do not wear sexually provocative or crude clothing or jewelry.
  • If you are wondering whether your behavior or comments are acceptable, then they probably are not. Think before you speak, and if it may be inappropriate, do not say it.
  • Limit your physical contact with staff, especially touches that are more personal than professional.
  • Do your best to keep your social life out of the workplace.
  • Avoid being alone with staff in private areas of the home, such as bedrooms or bathrooms.
  • Never ask staff on a date, tell staff you are attracted to them, or otherwise make sexual advances on staff. Even if you believe the feelings are mutual, the risk of a lawsuit if they are not, or if the relationship fails, are too high.
  • If staff accuses you of sexual harassment, arrange for a third-party investigation and protect the staff member from retaliation. Avoid any employment decisions that could be viewed as retaliatory during the investigation.
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