How to Mitigate Inappropriate Watercooler Talk in the Current Sexually Salacious News Environment

09 April 2018 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog
Authors: Leonard V. Feigel

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.

This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.


Related Services