Meeting Mentor Magazine

October 2019

Yes, You Really Do Need a Sexual Harassment Policy

You may have heard some attorneys posit that meeting organizers can sidestep the whole issue of liability related to any sexual harassment occurring at their events. All you have to do is deliberately avoid creating a code of conduct that sets out rules to abide by and policies for how to proceed should someone violate those rules. After all, the argument goes, if you don’t have a policy and take no action, you can’t be accused of mishandling a situation should one arise. All you really have to do is advise anyone who runs into trouble to call hotel security or the police; the group doesn’t get involved, so it isn’t expanding its duty of care responsibilities to encompass sexual harassment or abuse.

Joshua Grimes (pictured), a meetings industry attorney with Grimes Law Offices, thinks that’s just flat-out wrong. Sure, there’s always going to be a risk associated with having a policy and enforcing it; it could get messy, for example, if you take someone accused of harassment away from the meeting and, after investigation, discover that they didn’t do anything wrong. “The argument is that you’re assuming a duty to assist people that doesn’t exist.”

However, Grimes said, “I think there will be liability whether you do anything or not. If a person feels they have been sexually harassed or alleges there was a sexual assault and enters litigation for injuries they allege were sustained, they’ll sue your group anyway. You would have to prove you had no legal duty of care.”

There are both legal and ethical/moral reasons to develop and enforce a sexual harassment policy for meetings, he said. “The legal end says that, because it’s your meeting, you arguably have to take reasonable steps to prevent harm from happening to your attendees, staff and others serving the event,” he said. “Your duty of care extends to harassment situations.” You’re particularly going to have a hard time defending inaction if you are made aware of an incident and do nothing, and then another incident occurs, he added. “If you haven’t done anything to prevent a recurrence, there could be liability to your organization.”

Organizations also have an implied ethical and moral obligation when they sponsor a meeting to ensure their attendees can comfortably take part in the event. “If you don’t address issues that deprive someone from being able to do that, it will hurt your organization in the long run. It could affect future attendance if people find out there was an incident and you did not address it.

“Burying your head in the sand is not the best of plans for dealing with alleged incidents of sexual harassment,” he said — Sue Pelletier

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 2,500 corporations and associations through our 325 Associates globally. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, the leading publication for senior meeting planners, is circulated to the clients, prospects and sales associates of ConferenceDirect, which books more than 3.87 million room nights. www.meetingmentormag.com

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