Added Protection Against Workplace Harassment Liability

10.08.2013

We hope that policies and training have become so airtight in your business that workplace harassment on any basis, much less based on a protected category, has been eliminated, or if a hint of it arises, is quickly ended and remediated, if necessary.  Such harassment is particularly egregious and more difficult to defend if it is committed by company supervisors.  The United States Supreme Court recently addressed this issue in its June 2013 decision in Vance v. Ball State University, reaffirming that workplace harassment based on a protected category results in strict liability for employers when a supervisor commits the harassment.  However, the Supreme Court also limited the definition of “supervisors” in the Vance case to those who have the “authority to inflict direct economic injury” such as by hiring/firing, promoting/demoting, deciding on bonuses, etc.  Accordingly, as an employer, you should take care to give such authority carefully and sparingly, knowing the effect that workplace harassment by such people can have to your business.