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Cooperative housing entities: Avoid sexual harassment charges

Housing cooperatives can take steps to limit their liability when it comes to sexual harassment complaints.

Across the country, over 1.2 million families reside in homes owned by cooperative housing entities, according to the National Association of Housing Cooperatives. In many cases, housing co-ops hire employees to conduct daily tasks associated with the running of the business.

When a housing cooperative employs individuals directly, it may be liable for certain issues that arise with its employees. For instance, an individual may contend that an employee of the cooperative engaged in sexual harassment. It is important for members of cooperative housing entities to understand the implications of such charges and the ways in which they can limit their liability in advance.

Consider hiring a management company

Rather than making employment decisions through the board, some housing cooperatives choose to use a third party to manage employees. A co-op can hire a management company, which then acts as an intermediary between the board and the employees.

Management companies can take on a number of responsibilities when it comes to employees, such as making decisions regarding the hiring and discharge of employees. They can also be given the responsibility of ensuring employees are properly trained regarding sexual harassment and other employment policies. Entrusting a management company with such responsibilities can limit the liability of the cooperative entity should an employee act improperly.

Create a written sexual harassment policy

Whether the cooperative decides to hire a management company or not, it is a good idea to establish a written sexual harassment policy.

In addition to prohibiting employees from engaging in sexual harassment, the policy should also indicate that employees will not face retaliation for making a complaint regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.

Provide training to employees

Sexual harassment can take many forms and can affect women or men. In some cases, an individual may make inappropriate comments to another in the workplace. In other situations, an employee may make sexual advances or physically harass another individual.

To ensure employees are aware of the many forms of harassment and the consequences for engaging in such inappropriate behavior, either the cooperative or the management company should provide sexual harassment training to all employees.

If you are a member of a co-op board and are uncertain about your liability when it comes to sexual harassment claims against your employees, you need the advice of a legal professional. Consider taking the time to talk to a knowledgeable housing cooperative attorney, who will work to ensure your interests are safeguarded.

Keywords: housing cooperatives, sexual harassment

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