Conducting business in the Virgin Islands poses unique challenges not often encountered in the states, but also unique opportunities. This 20-part blog series will offer tips for doing business in the U.S. Virgin Islands, covering a broad array of topics affecting employers. Part three of this series addresses sexual harassment prevention policies and training.
Tip 3: Employers Must Adopt and Distribute Sexual Harassment Prevention Policies and Provide Training
As the number of jurisdictions requiring employers to adopt sexual harassment prevention policies and provide anti-harassment training increases, employers with operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands should be mindful that the territory has had such requirements in place since 2006. U.S. Virgin Islands law requires every employer to adopt and distribute a written sexual harassment prevention policy. In addition, private-sector employers with five or more employees (and all government employers) must provide training to members of their workforces. The core requirements are addressed below.
U.S. Virgin Islands law sets forth the following minimum requirements for sexual harassment prevention policies. A written policy must:
- state that sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful;
- state that it is unlawful to retaliate against an employee who files a complaint of sexual harassment or cooperates in an investigation of a complaint;
- provide a definition of sexual harassment and provide examples of sexual harassment;
- identify the “range of consequences for employees who are found to have committed sexual harassment”;
- explain the process for filing an internal complaint, including the work addresses and telephone numbers of the persons to whom complaints should be made; and
- identify the appropriate territorial and federal employment discrimination enforcement agencies and furnish contact information for these agencies.
Employers with operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands must provide all employees in the territory with written copies of the policies against sexual harassment, and the policies must be furnished to new employees at the time of employment. In addition, employers are required to maintain copies of their written policies at their business premises and, upon request, make the copies available to employees and any territorial or federal employment discrimination enforcement agencies.
In order to comply with these requirements, employers that maintain and distribute employee handbooks or policies in electronic form only may wish to identify and implement procedures to ensure distribution of printed copies of those portions of the handbooks or policies that address sexual harassment, or determine other means to comply with the distribution requirements.
Employers with operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands that “employ five or more employees or that receive the services of five or more persons under an employment contract for each working day in each of the twenty or more calendar weeks per year,” as well as all government employers, must conduct training programs for all new employees concerning the sexual harassment prevention policies within one year of commencement of employment. The training must cover the topics required to be included in a written policy.
Employees with supervisory or managerial responsibilities must receive additional training addressing their specific responsibilities under the employer’s policy and the steps that they should take to ensure immediate and appropriate corrective action to address sexual harassment complaints. This training must be provided within one year of commencement of employment (or promotion to a supervisory or managerial position).
Sexual harassment in the workplace can result in lost productivity, reputational harm, litigation, civil liability, and monetary damages and other penalties. In order to minimize the likelihood of such unwanted consequences, employers doing business in the U.S. Virgin Islands may wish to review their existing policies to confirm that they include a sexual harassment prevention policy that complies with territorial law, or if necessary, adopt or update an anti-harassment policy.
In addition, employers may want to confirm that their policies are appropriately distributed, that supervisors and managers receive the necessary training, and that other members of their workforces receive training if required by law. Like the laws of many other jurisdictions in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands law establishes minimum requirements only. Accordingly, U.S. Virgin Islands employers may wish to determine whether additional policies and education are warranted to address business and workforce-specific issues. Employers also may wish to evaluate and update policies to ensure that they are suited to remote workers, if any, and determine whether additional training is needed to reinforce expectations associated with electronic platforms that are in increasing use.
Ogletree Deakins will post additional tips for employers doing business in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2020 on the firm’s U.S. Virgin Islands blog.