Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 05 Harrass 1

Human Resources questions for dentists: After hours harassment, warning staff of layoffs

May 21, 2015
Dentists need to know their legal responsibilities when it comes to human resource issues. Is this office responsible for "after the party" harrassment? Do these small business owners need to let employees know new owner plans to fire them? Find out here.

QUESTION: We periodically host off-site company functions. Often, there is alcohol available for adults. When this is the case, we provide a hotel room to keep everyone safe and we pay for it. At our most recent event, an employee alleged that a male coworker harassed her late in the night, long after the event given by us was over. Do we have to investigate this? Is there a potential for liability even though it was away from work and on a weekend?

ANSWER: Employers have been held liable for harassment occurring away from the workplace at company-sponsored events. Potential liability exists for you regardless of who paid for the hotel room, and even if the official work-related part of the event was over. Certainly, however, any assessment of liability, whether by an attorney or a government agency, would include the fact that this alleged harassment did happen away from the event, which could result in changing the outcome for you if this ever became a more serious situation.

It is not a good idea to ignore this complaint, regardless of when the alleged harassment occurred. Investigating the matter as fully as possible is in your best interest. How and if you address the situation will depend on what your investigation reveals. You may find that no part of your anti-harassment policy was violated, or you may find that both parties were at fault, which would not require any further action. You should respond and address any behavior you believe violated your policy. The key is that you respond in some way, which can be crucial and may deter any escalation by those involved.

QUESTION: We have a small business of 10 employees, and we have decided to sell it. The soon-to-be new owner is not going to retain any of our current staff. Do we have a legal obligation to inform staff that this will be occurring?

ANSWER: Legally? No. The federal “Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN),” which requires employers to notify employees of mass layoffs or business shutdowns, applies to employers with 100 or more employees. While several states have “Mini-WARN” laws in place, they generally apply to employers with 50 or more employees. Maine appears to be the only state whose mini-WARN law applies to all employers, although there are some exceptions.

Of course, employees would most likely appreciate as much notice as possible so that they can better prepare themselves. Warning them may also be the most responsible and professional thing to do regardless of whether or not the law requires you to do it.

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Human Resources Questions for Dentists is provided by Tim Twigg and Rebecca Boartfield of Bent Ericksen & Associates. Tim Twigg is president and Rebecca Boartfield is a human resource compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760 or visit