We continue to attend the ABA Occupational Safety and Health Law Meeting this week in Santa Monica, California.
A hot topic, discussed at today’s meeting, is sexual harassment in the workplace. Panelists are discussing whether sexual harassment could constitute a serious workplace safety and health issue. Studies show that pervasive harassment may manifest in physical symptoms in victimized employees. The question becomes, when does sexual harassment evolve into workplace violence that presents OSHA liability? There are currently no specific OSHA standards that address workplace violence or sexual harassment. However, under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm.” As such, sexual harassment is on OSHA’s radar, and as more employees step forward, it is anticipated that more inspections will be opened from complaints.
The panel discussed specific industries, including healthcare, social services, hospitality, late night retail, construction, agriculture, and food processing, as those where sexual harassment as a workplace violence issue are statistically more likely. OSHA will likely focus on these industries in evaluating future sexual harassment inspections. As an example, the panel referenced a case in Region 3, where an inspection was opened when a pediatric services employee was sexually assaulted by a client’s father after complaints were made to the employer by other employees about the alleged abuser. Companies should evaluate complaints and determine if sexual harassment in the workplace is foreseeable or preventable.
The panel also talked about efforts by local cities and industries that have made proactive steps to protect employees from sexual harassment. As an example, Seattle, New York, and Chicago have all taken steps to provide hotel workers with “panic buttons” to help prevent attacks by hotel guests. It is anticipated that these regulations will spread across the country, and span new industries as well. Employers should stay aware of the newest regulations and industry practices to reduce the risk that employees will be harmed or that an OSHA inspection will be opened.
More to come from the conference tomorrow.…