New Sexual Harassment Bill on the Horizon

If you attended our Annual Employment Law Seminar on April 12, then you already know that the ways in which employers deal with sexual harassment is changing. Even if you didn’t attend, you probably have a sense that the cultural attitude towards sexual harassment is changing. This is primarily due to movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp that are striving to bring attention and accountability to issues of sexual harassment.

Following along with the zeitgeist, Delaware lawmakers have proposed new legislation aimed at combatting sexual harassment in the work place. Representative Helene Keeley, one of the co-sponsors of House Bill Number 360 , feels that it is time Delaware employers are held to a higher standard in terms of sexual harassment. “Harassment has been hidden and commonplace for far too long, but there is a major culture shift underway. We need to continue on that momentum with this legislation. Education is key to preventing and identifying harassment, and helping to alert people of their options to raise concerns,” Rep. Keely said in a statement.

Other states that have introduced similar legislation are California, Connecticut, and Maine. SHRM reported that these three states already require private sector employers to have workplace training for sexual harassment.

Delaware’s bill introduces many standards. First, it defines sexual harassment as, “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” The bill also notes that harassment need not be driven by sexual desire.

The bill also requires the Department of Labor to create an information sheet on sexual harassment. The sheet, which would be available in the department, by mail, or on the DOL’s website, would include the definition of sexual harassment and recourse for victims, among other information of that nature.

Finally, the bill would require employers that have 50 or more employees (employees being individuals, unpaid interns, volunteers, and/or contract workers) to provide at least two hours of training biannually to all of their supervisors. The bill states this training must, “[b]e presented by trainers or educators with knowledge and expertise in the prevention of harassment.” Again, those of you who attended our seminar know how important we feel this kind of training is. Training videos and online courses are not cutting it anymore. Bringing in a professional shows that your organization is serious about correcting this kind of behavior. Having an interactive training session also leads to better-informed employees. While you do not have to call upon one of our attorneys, we are having more and more of our clients request this service.

More than training, any employer, meaning an individual employing four or more employees within the State of Delaware, can be held responsible, “for acts of sexual harassment between fellow employees and by non-employees where the employer, or its agents or supervisors, knows or should have known of the conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.”

On last check, the bill remains pending before the House. But, if passed by the General Assembly, there is every reason to believe it will be signed into law by Governor Carney.

And if you are interested in having one of our attorneys to come give an anti-sexual harassment training session, whether or not it is required by law, please contact Lauren Russell, Esq. at (302) 576-3255 for more information.