It’s been a few years since the U.S. Supreme Court laid down the law on sexual harassment. Your organization probably scrambled to create a zero-tolerance policy and pushed hard to educate employees about it.
Time breeds complacency, and too many organizations have let down their guard. The world’s best policy won’t do you any good collecting dust on a shelf. Brush off the plan and:
- Require regular sexual-harassment training for everyone.
- Track participation; have employees acknowledge they received a copy of the policy.
- Post the policy where employees can’t miss it. Include regular reminders with pay stubs or in the employees’ newsletter.
- Set a good example and act fast on every complaint you receive. You don’t want word to spread that the policy has no bite.
Recent case: Blue Cross/Blue Shield employee Susan Baldwin had a boss with exceedingly poor manners and a potty mouth. The insurer had a strong no-harassment policy and invited employees to come forward with complaints. Baldwin knew this because she regularly received sexual-harassment training.
According to Baldwin, her boss propositioned her, called her (and everyone else) vile names and generally conducted himself in an ungracious manner. But she didn’t complain to HR until the two had a disagreement about a bonus payment.
HR sent an investigative team right away and interviewed other employees. Baldwin’s boss denied harassing her, and HR recommended mediation so the two could work together. Baldwin demanded her boss be fired, but the company fired her when she refused a transfer in lieu of staying.
Baldwin sued, but the 11th Circuit tossed out the case. The reason? Employees can’t refuse reasonable efforts to solve a harassment complaint. (Baldwin v. Blue Cross/Blue Shield, No. 03-02621, 11th Cir., 2007)
Bottom line: Employers that train everyone from the company president to the mailroom clerk stand the best chance of winning sexual-harassment cases. That’s true even if the behavior is something out of Animal House.