Minnesota State Legislature Aims to Make Sweeping Changes to Sexual Harassment Laws
The wave of sexual harassment and #MeToo legislation does not appear to be cresting anytime soon, as Minnesota is the latest state with employers in its crosshairs. After months of debate, the Minnesota state legislature seeks to enact a series of laws that would make sweeping changes to the State’s sexual harassment laws. Despite their best intentions, you should keep in mind that when these sorts of changes occur they are never good for the employer.
Minnesota Seeks to Eliminate “Severe and Pervasive” Standard
The first proposed change to Minnesota’s sexual harassment law is an elimination of the decades-old “severe and pervasive” standard for evaluating misconduct that is arguably harassing. Under the current standard, in order to be sexual harassment, conduct must be “unwelcome or unwanted, offensive to a reasonable person, and severe and/or pervasive in nature.” This means that simple jokes and offensive comments that are one off do not generally constitute workplace harassment. Were Minnesota to get its way this year, every comment or incident of inappropriate behavior could be grounds for a harassment claim.
Important to note, the proposed legislative change has been met with severe opposition from the business community and local governments, which [correctly] claim changing the law will lead to a wave of litigation and unnecessary financial burden. With any luck, the legislature will see the danger in adding this new language to Minnesota’s already stringent statutory prohibition on sexual harassment and will keep the status quo to help employers avoid a new wave of litigation.
Non-Disclosure Language in Sexual Harassment Suits in Jeopardy
Another important proposed change seeks to eliminate non-disclosure language in sexual harassment settlement agreements. This proposed change tracks similar legislation in New York and California and is aimed at making incidents more high-profile and public. The current majority of sexual harassment settlement agreements include confidentiality language prohibiting both parties from disparaging one another in the event the parties reach a settlement on a claim of sexual harassment. This is standard language that keep the matter private and avoids big press on incidents. Should the proposed change pass, employers would no longer be able to bargain for non-disclosure. This sort of language will likely cause settlement figures to drop and more cases to go to trial, as employers will be less likely to provide compensation knowing they will likely be all over the news and deemed “guilty” without even going to trial.
We strongly recommend consulting with our representatives to learn more about the training resources Syntrio offers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Syntrio’s subject matter experts are well in tune with changes to the law, and can help you and your company craft a plan of prevention that suits your business needs, no matter its size. We invite you to contact us today at 888-289-6670 or by filling out the online form available here.
Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance) and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.
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