When a co-worker launches a harassment campaign, you must act fast or risk a hostile-environment lawsuit.
That means all your managers must know the drill to follow the moment they get wind of harassment. Also, make sure employees know how to file complaints.
To protect your organization from all but the most egregious hostile and harassing acts:
- Provide the means for employees to report harassment, such as a confidential hotline accessible by toll-free number or direct e-mail.
- Make sure the person screening complaints acknowledges the receipt of all complaints and informs appropriate HR or personnel.
- Investigate the report as quickly as possible, and take immediate steps to end the harassment. If the complaint involves graffiti, postings or other tangible evidence, take a photograph of the offensive material and then remove it pronto. Also, separate the parties until you can sort things out.
- Wrap up the investigation as soon as feasible, and inform the parties of the outcome.
Recent case: Mario Washington, a black male, worked in Kroger’s meat department. A co-worker constantly made obscene suggestions about Washington’s wife.
But Washington didn’t report the problems to Kroger until the co-worker displayed a plastic figure of Washington hanging from a rope.
Washington reported the toy lynching to management, which promptly took down the figure and admonished the co-worker for violating Kroger’s anti-harassment policy. The co-worker stayed away from Washington and left the company 20 days later.
Washington quit and sued, alleging a racially hostile environment. But Kroger wasn’t liable because it responded swiftly after learning of the unacceptable behavior and stopped any further harassment. (Washington v. The Kroger Co., No. 05-16328, 11th Cir., 2007)