Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Clearing a path to complain is a key part of any harassment policy

EEOC v. Management Hospitality of Racine, Inc. (7th Cir. 1/9/12) concerns some of the worst allegations of sexual harassment you will encounter, especially when you consider that the complaining employees were both teenagers and that the harassing manager was a decade their senior.

The employer tried to avoid liability by relying on its zero tolerance sexual harassment policy and its prompt investigations of complaints. The court disagreed for several reasons, including that managers had never received any harassment training and that the employer waited two months to investigate the complaints in this case. Most importantly, however, the court concluded that the employer’s harassment policy failed on its face:

An employer’s complaint mechanism must provide a clear path for reporting harassment, particularly where, as here, a number of the servers were teenagers…. Flipmeastack’s sexual harassment policy did not provide a point person to air complaints to. In fact, it provided no names or contact information at all.

What does this mean for you? A harassment policy is worthless if it does not tell employees how to complain and to whom to make complaints. Let me make one additional suggestion — have more than one avenue for complaints. You do not want to be in a situation where an employee does not complain because the person to whom your policy directs him or her is the alleged harasser. Suggest that employees can complain to anyone in management, up to and including the head of your company. Depending on the size of your organization and the resources available, consider implementing a harassment complaint hotline or inbox.