Do you know exactly how you should respond to a sexual or racial harassment complaint? If you don’t, now is a good time to come up with a strategy—before you have to implement it.
Advice: Your plan should spell out exactly how the harassment investigation will be handled, who will handle it and what will happen if the allegations prove true.
Here’s why it’s so important to have a plan: Without one, chances are everyone will improvise the response.
That’s usually ineffective.
You might think simply telling workers to remove offensive objects or materials and stop making insensitive or downright offensive comments will stop the behavior. But what if they don’t stop?
In the following case, workers simply continued their harassing behavior despite orders to stop. Absent an effective threat like suspension or discharge, nothing changed. Now the company will face a jury.
Recent case: LaTonya Medley, a black woman, worked for a maintenance supply company. She was one of just two women at her workplace. Medley complained many times that her co-workers—especially three men who worked nearby—displayed Playboy magazines in their work areas and watched porn on their computers, apparently with the volume turned up. Medley told supervisors it sounded as though people were having sex in the next cubicle.
Managers responded by telling the co-workers to stop and temporarily suspending their Internet access. Nevertheless, Medley reported the men started right back up again with anti-female talk, often using slurs when they referred to her.
Medley finally went home one day after finding dark dolls with mop heads hanging from nooses and listening to co-workers direct a barrage of racist names at her. She quit and sued.
The company tried to argue it had responded to her complaints. The court, however, said it seemed the efforts were not very effective and suggested that, without disciplinary action, the company couldn’t claim it had effectively responded to complaints in a way designed to stop the harassing and racially charged behavior. It ordered a trial. (EEOC v. Central Wholesalers, No. 08-1181, 4th Cir., 2009)
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