Question: Try this on for gross. A female employee gains access to her boss’s e-mail account without permission and discovers a vulgar e-mail sent by a male co-worker to her male boss. The subject of the e-mail: her genitals.
So, does this create an illegal hostile work environment, even though the e-mail was not sent to the woman and she was never intended to read it? Yup, ruled the court.
“We have never held, nor would we, that to be subjected to a hostile work environment the discriminatory conduct must be both directed at the victim and intended to be received by the victim,” said the court. “The fact that (she) was not the intended recipient of the e-mail is of no consequence.”
Case in Point: Marla Segovia worked as a new-car sales manager at a
Shortly after, one of the disciplined employees sent Marla an e-mail asking her why she couldn’t “take a joke.” When Marla again complained to her boss, he responded by telling her to ”get back to work." Ugg.
Only one month later,
What does this new ruling mean to you?
It didn’t help the
dealership’s case that the EEOC was able to show evidence that one of
the owners ”frequently made indisputably gender-related remarks and
tolerated the use of the word ‘bitch’ to describe
Lessons Learned ... Without Going to Court
- Have a sound e-mail policy that is consistent with your anti-harassment policy. Both should discuss prohibitions against e-mails of a sexual nature.
- Train everyone on your e-mail policy.
E-mails are everlasting evidence and legal documents. Make sure they
are used for business purposes only. Tell employees to never write
anything in an e-mail that they wouldn’t want shown on a poster in
- Remember to train bosses, too.
Attitudes from the top roll down to managers, supervisors and
employees. Educate bosses that what they say and write can and will be
used against them. Bosses also need to know they could face personal liability, in addition to corporate liability.
- Never blow off a complaint. Never. How you respond, fail to respond or if you give some snappy answer will always be part of any harassment lawsuit. Make sure you thank employees for stepping forward and reassure them you will take prompt, effective action. Then start an investigation.
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