If a sexual harassment situation happens off-site or after-hours, is it your concern as an employer? Should your company policies include strict prohibition of intimate relationships between employees? What ramifications follow when you are aware of intimate relationships or power imbalances in the workplace but choose to ignore them?

Employers need to know the answers to these questions, if they are to protect themselves against costly sexual harassment suits, according to sexual harassment attorneys. Visit www.dinsmorestark.com for more information on employment discrimination.

A case in point

Many employers have made mistakes, which have resulted in lawsuits and more. One such incident involved a New York City law firm. A lawsuit was filed by an associate attorney, who claimed that one of the partners of the firm raped her after kissing and grabbing her breast on the third day of her job in 2011.

The co-founder was in a dilemma because the accused claimed that they had consensual sex and that she was fatally attracted to him. The firm put this up as a defense but realizing this did not make sense, withdrew their counterclaim. The biggest mistake the firm made, according to sexual harassment attorneys, is that there was no policy that strictly prohibited intimate relationships between employees. Preventing such incidents from happening is always better than acting after the damage is done, say sexual harassment attorneys.

Whose version to believe?

Often, in such incidents, there is only hearsay evidence and employers find themselves in a quandary about whose version they should believe. In another such case, a truck driver trainee alleged she was raped by her instructor in a motel room that they were forced to share since the company refused to pay for different rooms.  Karen Shank, the trainee filed a lawsuit against CRST, and the California appeals court awarded $2 million compensation to her.

This case showed up another glaring mistake of CRST, which required employees to pay out of their pocket to avoid bunking together. Wow! Sexual misconduct that occurs anywhere and at any time is still the employer’s concern if it involves one or more employees.

Act before it’s too late

Sexual harassment attorneys say that when employers notice a power imbalance or a relationship in the workplace, they should immediately take note and act before it is too late. Ignoring the matter until the damage happens would prove detrimental.

Finally, once the incident is brought to the employer’s notice, a proper investigation must be conducted, which would at least show the EEOC and the jury that appropriate procedure was followed. In addition, if the investigation does throw up loopholes in the system, it could be rectified, to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

In the first case of a NY City law firm, the firm while considering the possibility that a female employee wanted money, or was attracted to the accused because of his status or power, should also have noted that she needed a job to pay off her debt of $300,000 and this compelled her to having consent to having sex with her boss. There are some people believe that this person knew this could lead to a winning lawsuit for her so she could pay off her debt and are not so apt to believe her side of the story.