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Allow accusers to bypass supervisor to file complaints

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

A sexual harassment policy is worthless unless it clues in those who really need to know what’s going on at the shop level. Don’t think you’re in the clear just because you have a policy and tell supervisors to stamp out harassment.

Effective policies include a ready means for all employees at every level to report harassment outside the chain of command. To be sure yours does, and that it’s user-friendly for employees, you can:

  • Provide a toll-free hotline or special e-mail address for employees to make initial reports. Include the hotline or other information on pay stubs or in the employee newsletter.
  • Assign someone from outside the plant or office to follow up promptly.
  • Warn supervisors that it’s illegal to retaliate against complainers. Retaliation can include shift changes, additional work or different tasks.
  • Make it clear that HR must approve any discipline before implementing it during an investigation and for a reasonable period afterward, even if the allegations prove unfounded.

Recent case: Crystal Ribis worked as a greeter at a car dealership, which she later would claim was a hotbed of sexual innuendo and harassment.

From day one, she complained that co-workers and supervisors talked about sex nonstop. She said one employee was particularly obnoxious, constantly making comments about his sex life and how he could enrich hers.

Ribis says she complained to both co-workers and supervisors, but no one stopped the behavior. One manager told her point-blank that he wasn’t there “to deal with all this” and she should cut the alleged harasser “some slack.”

Eventually, she quit and sued. The car dealership told the court it had a sexual harassment policy and responded to complaints, although it had no concrete documentation to support those claims. The court ordered a trial, telling the dealership a jury was best equipped to sort fact from fiction. (Ribis v. Mike Barnard Chevrolet-Cadillac, No. 03-CV-6489L, WD NY, 2007)  

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