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One of the best ways to protect your organization from sexual harassment lawsuits is to make sure all employees know what sexual harassment is and what to do about it.

The more you publicize the policy, the harder it will be for an employee to argue she didn’t lodge a complaint because she didn’t know she should.

Remember, if an employee believes she’s been harassed and doesn’t report it, the company won’t be liable unless the harasser is a supervisor and the employee was fired, demoted or otherwise punished.

Recent case: When Janice Collins began to work for Chemical Coatings, she got a copy of the company anti-harassment policy. The policy said employees should report any instances of harassment to their supervisor, or anyone else in management if they weren’t comfortable speaking with the supervisor. Collins signed it, acknowledging that she would familiarize herself with how the policy worked.

Apparently, morale at Chemical Coatings was generally low and employees frequently quit. When a co-worker announced she was leaving, Collins reportedly said, “I’m leaving right behind you.” Then she walked off the job.

Shortly after, she went to the employee relations office and said she wanted to report that her supervisor had sexually harassed her. The company offered to return her to her job and promised to investigate her allegations. Instead, Collins sued.

The court threw out her case. Even though Collins’ former supervisor was the alleged harasser, she could offer no proof that the alleged harassment had resulted in an adverse employment action. Instead, she had walked off the job for unspecified reasons.

Because she hadn’t used the sexual harassment policy, the company never had a chance to fix the problem. It therefore wasn’t liable. (Collins v. Chemical Coatings, No. 5:07-CV-116, WD NC, 2010)

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