Sexual harassment isn’t an issue that is unique to farming. However, the conditions common to farming present a significant number of opportunities and the victims often lack resources to make it stop. A significant portion of the problem occurs when farmers contract out their labor rather than hiring their workers directly. These farmhands are often unfamiliar with harassment laws or don’t know their rights. They also fear retaliation for speaking out so they remain silent.
How to Recognize Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment isn’t always overt, as it can be verbal as well physical. It can occur before, during, or after working hours when a supervisor or co-worker makes unwelcome advances while operating within the scope of employment. Examples of sexual harassment include:
- Unwanted sexual commentary, jokes, written notes, or derogatory remarks of a sexual nature
- Unwanted and intentional touching of a sexual nature or on an intimate area of the body
- Wielding a position of authority to extort sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or preferential treatment
Any sexual action that creates a hostile work environment opens an employer up to a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Employers’ and Supervisors’ Obligations to Farm Workers
Any authority figure on the farm needs to take pains to avoid committing harassing behaviors as well as identify and correct inappropriate employee conduct. Supervisors who fail to put a stop to sexual harassment can be held liable in a lawsuit for tolerating offensive behavior. As such, all farming operations need to have a complaint procedure that allows victims to report harassment without fear of retribution. Employers should also include at least one female employee as a complaint receiver as many female victims don’t feel comfortable reporting to a male.
Farms should also implement clear disciplinary guidelines for sexual harassment claims. By following procedures every time, employers can eliminate the perception of discrimination or preferential treatment. Employers should also follow up on any reports of harassment to ensure it actually stops. When cases of employee sexual harassment make it to the courtroom, judges consider if the employer learned about the problem as soon as possible, how the employer addressed it, and what steps the employer took to prevent it in the future.
Protecting Employees and the Farm
Farming operations accused of creating a hostile work environment due to sexual harassment can find themselves at the center of an expensive lawsuit. Farms often operate on tight budgets, and a lawsuit can be enough to shut it down permanently. While taking steps to prevent sexual harassment in the first place is key, farmers can also invest in insurance to protect themselves and their agribusiness. Contact Cline Wood to learn more.
This document is not intended to be taken as advice regarding any individual situation and should not be relied upon as such. Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC shall have no obligation to update this publication and shall have no liability to you or any other party arising out of this publication or any matter contained herein. Any statements concerning actuarial, tax, accounting or legal matters are based solely on our experience as consultants and are not to be relied upon as actuarial, accounting, tax or legal advice, for which you should consult your own professional advisors. Any modeling analytics or projections are subject to inherent uncertainty and the analysis could be materially affective if any underlying assumptions, conditions, information or factors are inaccurate or incomplete or should change.agribusiness employer liability, agribusiness risk, farm liability, farming employment liability, farming epli