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Having anti-harassment policy isn’t enough: You had better be prepared to enforce it, too

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It’s not enough to have an anti-harassment and discrimination policy in your manual. It’s not even enough to train everyone regularly on what the policy requires.

What really counts is enforcing the policy when complaints come in. If you don’t, the penalty may be punitive damages.

Recent case: Arvell Irish and Leslie Moore work as janitors at Jewel Food Stores. Both are black.

The grocery store chain had a comprehensive anti-discrimination and harassment policy in place and regularly trained everyone on its requirements. The policy stated that complaints should go to immediate supervisors, who would pass the information on. Employees could also call in complaints to a hotline or HR.

For months, Irish and Moore complained about being called racially offensive names. Their shift supervisor said he would take care of it, but nothing happened. They then called the hotline for help.

That spurred an investigation, but Jewel concluded it couldn’t tell who was to blame or whom to believe. The harassment got worse, with graffiti of monkeys, banana peels on the floor and sabotaged work spaces.

Irish and Moore sued, alleging racial harassment. They also de­­manded punitive damages.

Jewel protested, claiming it had a policy and tried to enforce it.

But the court said that wasn’t good enough. It ordered a jury trial to determine whether the two had been racially targeted. It said the jury was free to consider punitive damages as a sanction. (Irish, et al., v. Jewel Food Stores, No. 10-C-7265, SD IL, 2012)

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