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Missouri legislature considering employment law change

The Missouri Legislature is considering a bill that would eliminate individual liability for workplace sexual harassment. Critics say that the proposed change, which is sponsored by Rep. Gary Cross, would weaken the state's employment laws and make it easier for sexual predators in the workplace to escape the consequences of their actions.

Under current law, managers can be sued in their individual capacities for sexual harassment. Being named as a defendant in a sexual harassment case means the manager's name is published on the website maintained by the Missouri court system along with the name of the plaintiff and any other codefendant. Typically, in a sexual harassment case, the entity that employs both the manager and the complaining employee is named as a defendant too.

If the proposed bill becomes law, the manager could no longer be named as an individual defendant. The only liability would rest with the employer of the offending manager. Some say this will remove an important deterrent against sexual harassment and allow harassing managers to avoid public disclosure of their actions. A manager who sexually harasses an employee at one company would have an easier time moving on to a new job at another company and continue the same pattern of harassing behavior.

Sexual harassment is conduct of a sexual nature that is unwelcome. It may include such behavior as requesting sexual favors in exchange for some economic benefit or in exchange for avoiding an adverse employment action; it also includes inappropriate physical contact or sexual jokes or innuendos that create a hostile work environment. An employee who experiences sexual harassment in the workplace should speak up, first by letting the offending manager or coworker know that the conduct is unwelcome and then by reporting it to the employer. If the unwelcome conduct does not stop, the employee should consider speaking with an experienced employment law attorney about pursuing a sexual harassment claim.

Source: The Kansas City Star, "Workplace Predators," Kevin Baldwin, Feb. 22, 2013

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