We’ve discussed the importance of reporting animal abuse on the PorkNetwork website as well as in the PorkNetwork magazine. If you or anyone in your operation witnesses animal abuse, it needs to be reported immediately – it’s your obligation and duty. The same is true for harassment of people.

“Agricultural employers who are not proactive about guarding against sexual harassment in the workplace could face crippling lawsuits from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),” warns LeClairRyan shareholder David L. Cook. Cook represents agricultural businesses throughout the Northeast from the law firm’s office in Rochester, New York.

The EEOC has filed a number of sexual harassment suits against agricultural firms in the past six months and has declared its plans to take active steps to protect workers in agricultural industries.

Cook says that foreign national farmworkers are staying in the United States for longer periods, and many women are joining their husbands here. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, for a number of reasons, he explains. They often speak only English, which makes it difficult for them to report harassment. In addition, their working conditions are isolated and they’re likely less familiar with legal protections available to them.

It is extremely important for farm operations to formulate and adopt a sexual harassment policy, and to make sure all workers are award with that policy. Cook says a good sexual harassment policy will clearly state what kind of conduct is forbidden and will provide an accessible, confidential reporting system.

“If a complaint is factually grounded, swift corrective action must be taken,” points out Cook. “If the conduct has risen to the level of criminal conduct, law enforcement involvement may be necessary. Agricultural employers must be aware of and responsive to the potential for sexual harassment among their employees. By being proactive, employers can protect both their employees and themselves.”

No abuse or harassment – whether of animals or people – can be tolerated in agriculture industries, and employers must do all they can to make sure neither is taking place. If our industry is as good as we say it is, we must make sure these things don't happen.