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Power and Consent in the Workplace

April 2019 marks the official 18th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Of particular interest this year is a reexamination of the concept of consent. Although workplace relationships are often harmless, this is not the case when one partner has authority over the working conditions of the other. Power dynamics can muddy the idea of consent, and the line between well-intentioned flirting and sexual harassment can be awfully thin.

Remember that in order for consent to sexual contact to be meaningful it must be free from coercion. Almost by definition, there will exist some form of coercion whenever there is interaction between a boss and his or her subordinate. In fact, many businesses prohibit such relationships, or, if allowed, require full disclosure by the participating parties and the actual signing of documents acknowledging that the relationship is not in any way the result of coercion in any form.

The workplace environment can go sour very quickly when the sexual relationship stops but the employment relationship continues. The fallout from such relationships can have a ripple effect on their entire workplace network. Sexual relations between co-workers or supervisors can and do make it more difficult for them to seek help from friends and advisors.

If you see the potential for romantic relationships to wreak havoc in your workplace, Employment Practices Liability Insurance may be helpful in protecting your business against allegations of sexual harassment and other workplace transgressions. If you’re interested in learning more about EPLI insurance, give us a call at (570) 226-4571.

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