BEND, OR -- Despite recent high-profile reports, workplace sexual harassment isn't limited to Hollywood and Washington, D.C. It's happening in Central Oregon, too. Local Employment Attorney Geoffrey Chackel says there is a lot of confusion, right now, for both business owners and employees. Although, he admits, most supervisors understand they can’t make a sexual relationship a condition of employment. "That’s called ‘quid pro quo harassment,’ and that’s the type that people readily understand. It’s the hostile work environment harassment – the second form of sexual harassment – that people are struggling with. They don’t understand that it’s a form of unlawful gender discrimination."
In the past month, Chackel's Bend office
has seen about a 25% increase in calls from both supervisors and workers concerned they've been involved in potentially illegal actions or conversations. "They’re calling and asking, ‘Gosh; what’s going on? What can I do? Can I get ahead of this? Can we do a training?’ because people’s eyes have been opened up and they’re starting to see and hear conduct in the workplace that previously may not have alarmed them." He tells KBND News, "You see this nationally – it’s called the ‘Weinstein Effect.’ Women are feeling more empowered. Whether it’s a legitimate legal issue or not isn’t really the point. Some of them are, some of them aren’t. A single isolated comment, or even a few isolated comments, are not enough under Oregon or federal law to constitute sexual harassment." He says in some cases, the full workplace culture needs to be considered.
"I have nervous clients who just aren’t sure if they’re in compliance and they want to know what to do. Or, maybe they’ve seen some red flags." Chackel believes the best defense is a good offense, with supervisor training and investigating incidents as soon as they’re reported. He also practices in California and says cases he's worked in Los Angeles should be used as an example of how to tackle the problem here. "Things I saw were amazing. I mean, they blew me away. I could not believe some of the cases I handled; it would make you blush. But, in California, they have mandatory training for supervisors if you have 50 or more employees. Oregon doesn’t have that requirement."
Photo: (Clockwise from upper left) Film Producer Harvey Weinstein, Newsman Charlie Rose, Actor Kevin Spacey, GOP Senate Candidate Roy Moore, Democratic Sen. Al Franken, Comedian Louis C.K. all face allegations of inappropriate and potentially illegal conduct.