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Don’t know who’s harassing? What to do

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

What’s an employer to do when an employee complains of anonymous harassment? You may never be able to figure out who is doing the harassing, but you must still do something—if only to show that your company doesn’t approve. If you ignore the complaint, chances are the culprit will accelerate the harassment.

Begin by opening an internal investigation, just as you would for any other complaint. Then remind all employees about your anti-harassment policies and how seriously you take harassment. If the allegations are serious enough—especially if you have concrete proof such as graffiti or other solid evidence—hold a staff meeting to discuss the problem. You may also want to contact police or other law enforcement for help.

Recent case: Samir Latif, who is from the Middle East and of Egyptian origin, was a community college professor. Latif complained that he was being targeted for harassment based on his ethnicity and national origin. He said someone he couldn’t identify had left threatening notes calling him racist names.

It was impossible to identify the culprit, since the notes were left in areas that anyone could access. The administration did, however, send a campuswide e-mail reminding everyone that it expected all members of the college community to treat others with respect and asking them to come forward with any evidence they might have about hate crimes. The college also reported the incidents to police.

After Latif was terminated for unrelated reasons, he sued, alleging that he had been forced to work in a hostile environment.

The court said he didn’t have a case. The college had done all it could, and wasn’t responsible for acts of persons unknown. (Latif v. Community College of Baltimore, No. 08-2023, 4th Cir., 2009)

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