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How To Mitigate Inappropriate Watercooler Talk In The Current Sexually Salacious News Environment

Regardless of your political leaning, it is fair to say that national headlines over the past few weeks have been dominated by sexually charged topics. For instance, a porn star known as Stormy Daniels recently gave an extensive interview on the TV newsmagazine show “60 Minutes,” detailing an alleged extramarital affair with President Trump (Yes, I did say porn star). And, a former Playboy Playmate, Karen McDougal, sued a tabloid publisher, purportedly so she could tell her unabated story about her own extramarital affair with President Trump.

Generally speaking, employees discussing current events at the workplace does not (or should not) raise red flags for employers. However, the sexuality of the above-mentioned news stories, along with the current harassment-conscious environment, have created a potential minefield for employers. It does not take much of an imagination to see how discussions, emails and/or jokes about a porn star and/or a Playboy Playmate can quickly become inappropriate for the workplace.  Furthermore, just simple basic internet inquiries about these matters can lead an employee to inappropriate websites.

So what is an employer to do? Practical steps aimed at getting ahead of potentially inappropriate conduct are the best course.  With that in mind, below are some steps for employers to consider:

  • Remind employees of the company’s no-harassment policy, and include a copy of the policy or instructions on how to access a copy. Summarize prohibited conduct, including examples addressing the current salacious news environment, and remind employees of the company’s complaint process.

  • Separately remind managers and supervisors that they should set examples in demonstrating appropriate workplace behavior and be mindful of their heightened responsibility as a reporting source.

  • Consider conducting no-harassment/no-discrimination training for staff and management/supervisory employees if it has been more than a year since such training was conducted.

Remind employees of the company’s internet use, email and other network policies. Summarize that visiting pornographic or similar websites, forwarding links to inappropriate websites, and sending emailing inappropriate pictures in emails or through other company communication systems violates company policy, and will result in disciplinary action, up to possible termination.

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© 2020 Foley & Lardner LLPNational Law Review, Volume VIII, Number 99
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About this Author

Leonard V. Feigel, Employment Litigation Attorney, Foley Lardner Law Firm
Special Counsel

Leonard V. Feigel is an associate and litigation lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP, where he advises employers in all aspects of employment law including litigation. Mr. Feigel has experience representing employers before state and federal courts and administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board. He has handled cases relating to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), state and federal employment discrimination laws, including Title...

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