Employee doesn’t need to exhaust complaint channels to file suit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

After complaining to her store manager several times about harassment, Gabrielle Breda decided to resign and sue rather than take her complaint up the chain of command.

Company policy suggested taking harassment complaints to the personnel department but only required the employee to inform the store manager.

A lower court dismissed her case, saying she failed to follow the additional, optional avenues of complaint. But a federal appeals court reinstated the claim, noting that she followed the employer's only mandatory requirement of alerting the store manager. The court said employees "need not be concerned with whether they pursued their complaints far enough up the company ladder" when they follow a clear, published policy. (Breda v. Wolf Camera & Video, No. 99-12410, 11th Cir., 2000)

Advice: Carefully designate the people to whom employees should bring complaints. That choice may determine whether a court decides you were "on notice" about a problem.

One option: Require employees to report all harassment complaints to your personnel department. You'll increase the chances that upper level management will be made aware of any harassing behavior.

However, don't make your policy overly restrictive regarding who must be notified of misconduct. If you only list one contact, it would be difficult for someone harassed by that person to file a complaint.

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