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I turned 44 last week.

As each year goes by, I am consistently reminded that things today are not the way they were when I grew up. When we try to apply our understanding of the world learned a generation ago to the world that we live in today, we can sometimes get tripped up. We get backhanded by the expectations and the understandings of todays generation which increasingly is coming into leadership positions in our world. I see a world today that is far more tolerant of differences among people than it was a few decades ago. In the workplace this is a great progression. It has led to more opportunity, more innovation, and more diversity. The progression has resulted in a marketplace exploding with new ideas, products, and innovations. At the same time however, management sometimes struggles to keep up. And that struggle can lead to problems in personnel relationships. Under both federal and state law, employers can protect themselves from potential sexual harassment liability by having a plan in place to resolve sexual harassment complaints. Employers should ensure that employees are aware that sexual harassment should be reported immediately to supervisory personnel who can conduct an investigation of the harassing behavior. The policy should provide for an effective means to raise a complaint. It should ensure that employees can safely complain about behavior without suffering adverse employment consequences. The policy should not place any burdensome requirements on victims that might cause a victim to forego utilizing the policy. For example a policy that requires a complaint to be in writing and notarized before it will be accepted would place an undue burden upon a victim. In that case the policy would be ineffective and could expose the employer to potential liability. A smart employer should designate more than one person in the company to receive and investigate complaints and employees should be able to go to any one of the designated people with complaints. The investigator should be someone who can provide a fair and impartial investigation so that employees can have faith in the outcome. Where an investigation shows that the complaints of an employee have merit, the employer should take swift action to end the harassment. Action could include retraining, disciplinary suspension, or in some cases termination. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that where an employer has an effective policy in place to address harassment in a safe way, it will be shielded from liability if an employee fails to take advantage of that policy. This is the so-called Faragher-Ellerth defense. Which brings me back to where I started this column. In a recent case, an employer had an effective and workable policy in place to address sexual harassment. When nine employees complained about a supervisor sexually harassing them, the employer argued that it could not be liable because it had an effective policy in place and had notified all of its employees of the policy. However, the federal court in Colorado found that the policy was not sufficient and here is why. The employees who complained about the harassment were all of Hispanic descent, and the primary language that they read was Spanish. The sexual harassment policy was written in English only, and although all employees were shown a videotape in Spanish and English regarding the policy, the court

determined that having a written policy only in English was insufficient. It found that the employer could be held liable for harassment. Eric Brown is an attorney from Waterbury. He can be reached at 203-676-9110.