Employees who claim they have been forced to work in a hostile work environment often lose their lawsuits because courts are reluctant to guarantee a civil workplace.
But employers can’t accept horseplay, yelling, screaming and other unpleasant behavior at work.
Here’s why: Even if an employee loses a harassment lawsuit, his employer will have spent thousands in legal fees defending its actions. Supervisors and managers will have been pulled away from important work to testify. And the company will endure bad publicity that can affect the bottom line if customers choose not to do business with what they perceive to be an unpleasant organization.
Recent case: UPS employee Frank Damon sued, alleging that a female supervisor favored women for some jobs at his expense and subjected him to a hostile work environment.
He pointed to four separate incidents over a two-year period. One time, the female supervisor swore at him. Another time, she criticized his dress and beard and wondered how his wife could stand him looking so slovenly.
After a lengthy litigation process, the court eventually dismissed his lawsuit. It concluded that UPS had legitimately assigned women to some jobs because they were part-time employees who could do the work for less pay.
It also said the supervisor’s harassment, though perhaps unpleasant, wasn’t severe enough to create a hostile work environment. (Damon v. UPS, No 04-Civ-0746, WD NY, 2010)
Advice: Prevent costly harassment cases by making suretraining continually reinforces the right way to treat employees and give feedback.