Monday, April 4, 2011

Don’t give lip service to your harassment policy

It’s one thing to have a harassment policy. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed in 2011 to find many businesses that don’t. It’s entirely another thing, however, to have corporate culture that take the enforcement of that policy seriously. EEOC v. Dave’s Supermarkets (N.D. Ohio 3/1/11), illustrates the dangers that lurk for employers that choose to give their harassment policies lip service.

In Dave’s Supermarkets, female employees complained that the store ignored their complaints when the meat department manager (no jokes, please) sexually harassed them. The court not only denied the employer’s summary judgment motion as to (most) of the employees’ harassment claims, but also permitted their punitive damage claims to proceed to a jury trial. In refusing to dismiss the punitive damages claims, the court relied heavily on the fact that while the employer maintained a detailed anti-harassment policy, it did not follow through on its own procedures when it received the plaintiffs’ complaints.

A comprehensive anti-harassment policy involves three components:

  1. The anti-harassment policy.
  2. Appropriate training of all employees about that policy.
  3. A consistent corporate culture that take the policy and the company’s anti-harassment stance seriously.

Having a policy and enforcing it are two different animals. A policy is only as good as the people who execute it. Training and the right corporate culture are necessary to ensure that your anti-harassment policy works as best as it should and as often as it is needed. Otherwise, you are left in the awkward (and expensive) position of having to explain to a jury why your actions didn’t match your policy.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or