Avoiding Hostile Work Environment & Sexual Harassment Liability
Aug 12, 2015 | Written by: Share|
A recent opinion by the New Jersey Appellate Division, Jones v. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, confirms that employers must take proactive measures to protect employees from being subjected to a hostile work environment. In Jones, the Court was asked to address whether the plaintiff, a temporary employee who worked as a machine operator at the defendant’s manufacturing facility from March 2010 to October 2011, and subsequently as a permanent employee for a short period in early 2012, could maintain a sexual harassment hostile work environment claim against the defendants.
Plaintiff claimed she was subjected to numerous incidents of sexual harassment by at least 4 employees, one of whom she claimed was a supervisor. The alleged harassment included inappropriate touching, comments and other acts of a sexual nature. The Court recounted that an employer may be held liable if it negligently fails to have in place an effective sexual harassment policy. The Court stated that an employer’s implementation and enforcement of an effective anti-harassment policy is a critical factor in determining negligence. The Court also went a step further in connection with this opinion in stating that in order to demonstrate the existence of an effective anti-harassment as a defense, an employer must also take affirmative steps to make the employee aware of the sexual harassment policy and complaint structures. In Jones v. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, while the plaintiff was a temporary employee, she neither received a copy of the sexual harassment policy nor did she ever receive training with respect to sexual harassment.
Based on the foregoing, the Court held that there was a question as to whether the defendant corporation was negligent in its effort to eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace by failing to provide the plaintiff with a copy of the employee handbook outlining the sexual harassment complaint procedure.
The bottom line is that an employer must take affirmative steps to make sure each employee is provided with a copy of the employee handbook, which should contain a comprehensive sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure. Unless an employer verifies that each employee is provided with a handbook and training, liability can be attributed to the employer.