Sidestepping Sexual Harassment Allegations at Startups

Emily Taylor 
Emily Taylor
May 20, 2015

An article that appeared on SFGate, “Techies flock to Mission Control, S.F. members-only sex club,” discusses the activities of some tech workers in San Francisco, including several described startup founders, all in their 20s and 30s, which if discussed in the workplace, could quickly lead to situations that might result in sexual harassment claims. While the article discusses an extreme example, other activities and conversations that may seem relatively inoffensive have the potential to lead to allegations of harassment and costly litigation.

A startup may begin with a few friends working on an idea together. In such a collaborative environment, the lines between supervisors and subordinates and employees’ personal and professional lives, may blur. Coworkers may go to a bar together for drinks after work. They may also engage in joking or teasing or discuss with each other aspects of their personal lives, such as romantic and family relationships. Nothing is inherently wrong with this, but the potential for legal headaches arises when that group of coworkers includes a mixture of supervisors and subordinates and especially if it includes a startup’s founders. Employees may interpret certain comments or questions about their romantic or family lives as harassing, and the scene is set for a lawsuit.

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