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Bernstein Shur Monthly – December 2017


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Bernstein Shur Monthly – December 2017

Hilary Holmes Rheaume, Shoshana Cook Mueller, Zachary Brandwein

#MeToo: Advice for Employers

By: Hilary Holmes Rheaume

The power of social media can be characterized in one phrase: #MeToo. Not too long ago, the names of certain celebrities might cause one to think of a certain show, company, or political party. Today, those same names can generate a very different reaction, thanks to the power of social media. The #MeToo movement is an anti-sexual harassment and assault campaign that was ignited in response to the harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October.  Generally, an individual will post #MeToo on social media to acknowledge that he or she has experienced sexual harassment or assault and condemn such conduct.

There is no denying that the #MeToo movement has benefited society by shining a light on the unfortunate realities that can exist in the workplace. The success of the #MeToo campaign is reflected in the consequences for prominent leaders who have been identified as perpetrators of harassment and assault in the entertainment, political, and media industries.

With that said, the movement can cause uncertainties for employers. For example, does a #MeToo post about a particular person raise concerns for a past or current employer? Does a #MeToo post qualify as a formal complaint an employer must act on? Is an employer obligated to initiate an investigation if the employer comes across an employee’s #MeToo post about another employee? Although Human Resources should not “friend” employees on social media simply to monitor their posts, such information can often find its way to the employer.

When in doubt, an employer should start by meeting with the employee who posted the #MeToo message to ensure that his or her work environment is safe and professional. There is always the chance that such a meeting might lead to an investigation, or the meeting might confirm that the #MeToo post was about a past employer.

Either way, it is always better to be safe – and proactive – than sorry.

In light of recent events, the following three steps are proactive measures that an employer can take immediately to provide the safest environment possible for its employees:

  • First, an employer should ensure that it has an up-to-date anti-harassment policy. In Maine, an employer, regardless of size, is required to have such a policy (and to display the Maine Human Rights Commission Anti-Discrimination Poster in the workplace). The anti-harassment policy should not be limited to sexual harassment. Rather, it should prohibit harassment against any protected class.  Additionally, the policy should reflect current reporting procedures. For example, the policy should not tell employees to file a complaint with the Director of Human Resources, if such a position is vacant or the title has changed. The policy should also clearly identify what constitutes a “complaint” of harassment.
  • Second, ensure that your employees have access to the policy. Your employees should not have to contact Human Resources for this information.  Instead, it should be included in the company’s Employee Handbook, which should be provided to employees upon employment. You should also ensure that the policy is placed in an area that the employees have access to, such as a breakroom or an “employee only” section of the company website.
  • Third, provide your employees with anti-harassment training. Unfortunately, employers often schedule such training every few years, even though the laws have changed and/or there have been several new hires. In this situation, there may be a handful of employees who have never participated in the company’s anti-harassment training. As a result, holding anti-harassment training sessions annually should be a priority. In fact, Maine law requires all employers with fifteen or more employees to conduct an annual training. Not only does annual training provide employees with consistent education about appropriate behavior in the workplace, relying upon the latest updates to the law, but also it creates an open dialogue between employees and Human Resources. In the end, this is one of the most crucial components of a safe work environment.

The #MeToo movement reflects the unfortunate reality that more must be done to protect the dignity and rights of all employees. We encourage all employers to provide a safe environment for each and every employee. To do so, please review your anti-harassment policy to ensure it is current, share it with your employees, and schedule an anti-harassment training if you have not done so within the past year.

Contact Us:

Bernstein Shur’s Labor and Employment Practice Group can help employers better understand the state and federal anti-harassment laws and/or provide a comprehensive anti-harassment training or policy review. To learn more about revising an anti-harassment policy, scheduling a training, or initiating an investigation, please contact one of the members of the Bernstein Shur Labor and Employment Practice Group.

Big Changes Might Be Coming To Tax-Exempt Financing

As Congress works to reconcile the House and Senate tax reform bills, the future of capital financing for affordable housing, hospitals, independent schools, and other non-profit organizations hangs in the balance.

Currently, the tax code allows non-profit institutions to sell tax-exempt bonds to finance construction projects. The interest buyers earn on these bonds is tax-exempt, thereby reducing the cost of financing major projects for these institutions.

The House version of the tax-reform bill eliminates this exemption. The Senate version retains it. As the House and Senate work to resolve the differences between the bills, Maine’s affordable housing developers, hospitals, and private schools should keep a close eye on whether the tax exemption survives.

If the final version of the bill eliminates the exemption, capital costs for these institutions may rise and new construction might be delayed or canceled altogether. Increased financing costs might also be passed on to consumers.

Both the Senate and House versions of the tax reform bill also eliminate advance refunding bonds. Advance refunding is a tool that allows municipalities or other issuers of tax-exempt bonds to refinance outstanding bonds early.

To learn more about tax reform’s potential impact on tax exempt financing, please contact:

Shana Cook Mueller at 207 228-7134 or smueller@bernsteinshur.com
Zack Brandwein at 207 228-7371 or zbrandwein@bernsteinshur.com

In Case You Missed It – Attorney Pat Peard on Maine Calling

Shareholder, Pat Peard, was featured as a guest on a recent segment of Maine Calling to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace. Why does sexual harassment happen, and what can be done on an individual basis or as a culture? To listen the full show, click here!