Don't think that you can automatically swat away a pesky sexual-harassment suit by saying the complaining employee didn't follow your complaint procedure to a "T." Courts may let employees pursue their lawsuits, even if they complain to the wrong supervisor.
That's why it's important to train all your supervisors to keep their eyes and ears open to harassment complaints (and to direct harassment), and then pass that information along to the true "complaint-takers."
Recent case: A female prison guard claimed her co-workers and supervisors used obscene language, sexually propositioned her and viewed explicit material at work.
She told two supervisors without naming names, but they discouraged her from pursuing a complaint. She never filed a complaint through official channels, even though she had attended sexual-harassment training and knew of the proper complaint procedure.
When the behavior continued, she resigned and sued, alleging sexual harassment. A district court let her case proceed. Even though she never formally complained, the court concluded her discussion with the two supervisors was "sufficient to notify" the employer. (Dunbar v. County of Saratoga, No. 99-CV-79, N.D.N.Y., 2005)
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- Start new year with thorough review of your sexual harassment policies and practices
- Employee doesn't need to exhaust complaint channels to file suit
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