Bill looks to give employers ‘affirmative defense’ in sex harassment cases

File photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A bill that would provide an “affirmative defense” for employers in sexual harassment cases is continuing through the Ohio Legislature.

House Bill 352, also called the “Employment Law Uniformity Act,” has been touted by its sponsors as a new way to allow “timely, fair, and efficient resolution of claims for both employers and employees,” according to testimony heard before the House Committee on Civil Justice.

Included in the language of the bill is an “affirmative defense” for employers, including when it comes to hostile work environment sexual harassment claims. This allows the employer to avoid litigation if it proves the company had a policy in place that discourages harassment, and that the employee claiming harassment failed to utilize policies and procedures.

“Again, HB 352 also seeks to protect the interests of the employee by creating exceptions to this defense when it can be shown that taking preventive or corrective action would have failed or when an adverse employment action (was) taken,” Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, said in his written testimony to the committee.

Proof of employer’s actions is only needed with a preponderance of the evidence, a lesser test of evidence in civil cases than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The bill is cosponsored by state Rep. George F. Lang, R-West Chester, and 11 Republican fellow sponsors. A third hearing on the bill was held Tuesday in the committee, with no speakers and no action on the bill.