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Use robust anti-bias policy to limit liability

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources,Office Communication,Workplace Communication

Here’s an all-too-frequent scenario: Misconduct leads to discipline, perhaps even discharge. Then the employee sues, alleging that for years, he’s been subjected to harassment on account of a protected characteristic. Don’t let that happen to you.

Smart employers have a robust anti-discrimination process in place that invites employees to report any form of harassment or discrimination. They track every complaint so they can say definitively whether the former employee ever raised any problems.

If an employee never complains, courts are reluctant to believe that the working conditions were so terrible—or that the employer is liable for bias or harassment.

Recent case: Edwin Williams, a man of Indian origin over age 50, worked as a research associate at Tampa’s H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. When hired, he got a copy of the employee handbook, which instructed employees to report any harassment or discrimination directly to HR.

Soon after beginning work, Williams was told to improve his interpersonal skills. He was placed on a performance improvement plan and warned that if he didn’t work hard to improve, he would be terminated. When nothing changed, the center fired him.

Williams sued, claiming his supervisors had favored a younger, Hispanic female. He also claimed his direct supervisor called him names, implied he was a Muslim and ridiculed his age.

But he admitted he had never complained to HR, even though he knew he could.

The court concluded that no reasonable person could have worked in an environment as hostile as the one Williams described without complaining. Since he didn’t, it tossed out his case. (Williams v. H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, No. 8:09-CV-784, MD FL, 2010)

Final note: Make sure you can show that employees received your handbook by demanding their signatures on an acknowledgment.

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