Federal Agencies Are Targeting Agricultural Employers in Workplace Sex Harassment Suits, Says Cook

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--LeClairRyan attorney offers some ‘best practices’ for dairy and other companies subject to EEOC scrutiny.

Farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse due to isolated working conditions and a lack of familiarity with legal protections.

Agricultural employers who are not proactive about guarding against sexual harassment in the workplace could face crippling lawsuits from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), warns LeClairRyan shareholder David L. Cook in a “Dairy Management & the Law” column posted this month on industry news website dairybusiness.com. In October 2012 alone the EEOC filed three cases alleging sexual harassment and abuse of farmworkers, and the agency has declared its plans to take active steps to protect workers in agricultural industries, he notes.

“Foreign national farmworkers are increasingly staying in the United States for longer periods, and many women are joining their husbands here,” explains Cook, who represents major dairy and other agricultural businesses throughout the Northeast from his base in the national law firm’s Rochester office. “The Department of Labor’s 2005 National Agricultural Workers Survey estimated women make up 21% of the farmworker population, and the majority of these women are immigrants from Latin America.”

These immigrants are vulnerable to sexual harassment for numerous reasons, he notes, including the fact that they often speak only Spanish, making it difficult for them to report sexual harassment when it does occur. Further, farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse due to isolated working conditions and a lack of familiarity with legal protections.

“It is critical for farm managers to work with counsel to formulate and adopt a sexual harassment policy,” Cook asserts. “A good sexual harassment policy will clearly state what kind of conduct is forbidden, and provide an accessible, confidential reporting system.”

The policy should make it clear that workplace sexual harassment will not be tolerated; and particular attention should be paid to employees with supervisory authority, since supervisors are often responsible for harassment, he notes.

“If the complaint is factually grounded, swift corrective action must be taken,” Cook advises. “If the conduct has risen to the level of criminal conduct, law enforcement involvement may be necessary. Agricultural employers must be aware of and responsive to the potential for sexual harassment among their employees. By being proactive, employers can protect both their employees and themselves.”

To read the full column, go to:

About LeClairRyan

LeClairRyan provides business counsel and client representation in corporate law and litigation. With offices in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the firm has approximately 350 attorneys representing a wide variety of clients throughout the nation. For more information about LeClairRyan, visit http://www.leclairryan.com.


Press Contacts: At Parness & Associates Public Relations, Marty Gitlin, (631) 765-8519, mgitlin (at) parnesspr (dot) com, or Bill Parness, (732) 290-0121, bparness (at) parnesspr (dot) com.

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