Don't assume that you can handle sexual-harassment issues after they arrive on your desk as a complaint. The trend these days seems to be "quit and sue," rather than giving employers a chance to fix the problem. And, in many cases, employees are finding success in such tactics.
That's because harassment doesn't need to be long-term to be actionable. The legal standard is "severe OR pervasive." So, all it takes is a day or two, or even one particularly offensive act, to trigger a successful suit.
For that reason, it's more important than ever to avoid potentially harassing situations in the first place. If your training consists of handing managers and supervisors the sexual harassment policy, you aren't doing enough. You must show, not tell. Use video or role-play training. Share real-life harassment examples and the potential impact. Clip and circulate news items about sexual harassment, such as articles in this newsletter. Design compensation plans and bonuses that reward prevention.
Recent case: A female janitorial employee filed a sexual harassment suit, claiming that, over a two-day period, her supervisor and another manager allegedly asked her repeatedly about her sexual practices and even grabbed her while she bent down to pick up a copy of the company's sexual harassment policy.
A jury awarded her $30,000 for the "pain and suffering" she endured and added another $170,000 in punitive damages. That amounts to $12,500 per hour for the two days of harassment. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is usually an employer-friendly circuit, upheld the award, pointing out that when managers harass, even if only for a short time, the company is liable. (Schexnayder v. Jani-Kare Janitorial Services, No 05-30221, 5th Cir., 2006)
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