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Crack down on supervisor harassment with tough policy, prompt corrective action

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

HR professionals can’t be everywhere at once, making sure no boss ever harasses a subordinate. It will happen, even in the best, most progressive organizations.

Protect against such nonsense with a robust anti-harassment policy. Prohibit all forms of harassment, not just ones that are clearly illegal. You don’t want any form of bullying going on. Back your policy with a commitment to promptly investigate harassment allegations.

Have several ways for employees to complain—make it so easy that no one has an excuse for failing to report offensive conduct.

Plus, make sure supervisors report all harassment allegations up the chain of command. To ensure compliance, make doing so part of their job descriptions and a part of their performance evaluations.

Otherwise, they may be tempted to ignore complaints or obvious harassment that’s occurring right under their noses. That can make all the policies in the world worthless.

Recent case: When several employees of Hispanic origin and one Haitian employee complained to their general manager that they were being harassed, he did nothing.

After the employees sued, they ex­­plained in court documents the environment they had worked in. The Hispanic workers claimed their supervisor called them derogatory names like “Chico” and “Taco Bell.” One employee was compared to the Taco Bell chihuahua. Other times, they said, the supervisor claimed His­­panics made too much money and were taking jobs away from others.

The supervisor also allegedly wondered aloud whether the Hispanic men had “crossed the border together,” asking if “they stayed one on top of the other on the truck” or if they came over “under the truck or in the wheels.” The employees testified that the supervisor suggested they lived “20 in a room.”

The Haitian woman testified that not only did she endure the taunts her Hispanic co-workers had to bear, but she heard that she “came by boat.” Plus, she said the supervisor constantly asked her to come with him to a hotel for oral sex. In addition, he allegedly would stand be­­hind her, grab her and make comments about her physique.

The company responded by arguing that the employees hadn’t taken advantage of its harassment policy. The policy told employees that they should report supervisor harassment to either HR or the company president. They had done neither.

The employees explained that they thought going to the general manager was the right thing to do, but that he ignored them.

The court agreed. It said that complaining to the general manager was sufficient and that it was clear that he didn’t do anything to end the problem. The case will go to trial. (Rios, et al., v. Xact Duplicating, No. 10-CIV-8875, SD NY, 2012)

Final note: What if you discover that a manager failed to report harassment? Make sure you discipline him to encourage future reporting among managers and supervisors.

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