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Can our harassment policy penalize false claims?

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Q. Can we implement a provision on our sexual harassment policy that imposes discipline on employees who bring false harassment claims?

A. Including such a statement does not violate state or federal laws. However, it might be counterproductive and increase your liability.

Sexual harassment policies are generally meant to encourage employees to bring complaints of inappropriate behavior to the company’s attention. Promising to punish workers who bring “false” claims could discourage legitimate complaints, causing you to be held liable for sexual harassment.

For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that an employer can avoid strict liability for supervisor harassment when no adverse employment action was taken if: (1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassment; and (2) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.

A worker who sues may be able to overcome that defense by contending that he or she did not complain about the inappropriate conduct due to a reasonable fear of punishment.

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