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Archive for February, 2014

SEXUAL HARASSMENT: NO PLACE IN THE WORKPLACE

Posted on: February 24th, 2014 by admin

There are two main types of sexual harassment claims: “quid pro quo” sexual harassment and “hostile work environment” sexual harassment. They may occur independently or at the same time. Both are violations of federal and state law.  All forms of sexual harassment are illegal, and should not be tolerated in any working environment.

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Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151B defines “quid pro quo” sexual harassment as:

“sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when . . . submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decisions.”

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee with authority or control over another employee “offers” them a work benefit or advantage in exchange for sexual favors or gratification. Employees may be denied a work benefit or advantage because of their refusal to agree with requests for sexual favors.  Alternatively, the submission to unwelcome sexual advances also results in quid pro quo harassment, given that the terms or conditions of one’s employment are invariably adversely impacted. 

Simply put, if an employer threatens to take adverse action  against a subordinate employee (demote you, reduce your salary, fail to promote you, or refuse to raise your salary) for refusing his/her advances, the employee is the victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Hostile Work Environment

Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151B defines “hostile work environment” harassment as: “sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when . . . such advances, requests or conduct have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment.”

Hostile work environment claims are usually based on severe (eg.-inappropriate touching) or pervasive conduct or statements (eg.-multiple lewd sexual comments) in the workplace or at work sponsored events. Such conduct routinely impacts an employee’s emotional state and their ability to function in a professional environment. A hostile work environment interferes with an employee’s right to be free of harassment on the job and invariably interferes with the ability of workers to perform their job duties at their best. 

Simply put, employees should be able to work in an environment free from sexual explicit comments, jokes, emails, and other such conduct.

Retaliation

It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee by taking adverse action against an employee who reports or files a sexual harassment complaint (with her/his employer, with a governmental agency, or with a court), and it is illegal for an employer to retaliate or take adverse action against an employee who participates in any sexual harassment investigation or who assists another employee in pursuing a sexual harassment complaint.

Company That Fails to Safeguard Information Cannot Hold Contractor Liable for Stealing It

Posted on: February 14th, 2014 by admin

15286003-confidential-stampA recent Massachusetts Superior Court decision underscores the importance of being proactive when it comes to protecting trade secrets.  The Plaintiff, C.R.T.R., Inc., filed suit for misappropriation of trade secrets against an independent contractor who took customer lists, accounting records, and other sensitive information with him when his contract ended.  However, the Court granted judgment in favor of the Defendant and dismissed the case.

Although customer lists and financial data are typically considered confidential, Massachusetts Courts will not find a defendant liable for misappropriation unless the plaintiff can show it took sufficient measures to protect the information.  In this case (C.R.T.R., Inc. v. Lao), the Court held that the Plaintiff did not do enough to safeguard its information.  The company did not require the contractor to sign a confidentiality agreement; it had no policies concerning trade secrets or confidential information; and the customer lists were freely available through its computer system.  In addition, some of the company’s customers were publicly identified on its website.

The moral of the story, is that a business cannot hold someone liable for stealing their confidential information if the business did not treat the information like it was confidential before it was stolen or otherwise misappropriated.  There are a variety of methods for safeguarding trade secrets and other confidential information, depending upon the nature of the business and specific information to be protected.  In light of the legal framework, it is prudent to take a proactive approach to shielding sensitive information.