You can’t control everything that happens in the workplace. Despite your best efforts, a supervisor might still harass your employees. That doesn’t mean you’re defenseless.
A good sexual harassment policy, thorough training for everyone (including supervisors and rank-and-file employees) and prompt action can save the day.
Recent case: Lucy worked as an emergency dispatcher for Bucks County, which gives its employee handbook to all new staffers when they’re hired. It includes a policy spelling out what harassment is and how to report it, and explains the county’s zero-tolerance stance against harassment. Every time the policy changes, an HR representative personally visits each work location and hands all employees a copy of the amended policy. Each employee then signs an acknowledgment that they have received the revision.
Lucy complained that her supervisor was a constant sexual harasser, rubbing up against his subordinates, calling them sexually suggestive and obscene names and generally creating a sexually hostile work environment.
However, Lucy didn’t say anything until long after she had been transferred to a different shift where she no longer had to deal with the manager. She had several opportunities to complain earlier, but merely said that the manager was hard to work with and didn’t provide any details.
The county investigated and the harasser retired. Lucy then sued.
She lost. The court said the county was in the clear because it had made every effort to encourage employees to report harassment and then acted fast when it finally learned what the supervisor had been doing. (Olivieri v. County of Bucks, et al., No. 11-4130, 3rd Cir., 2012)
Final note: Are your sexual harassment policies up-to-date? Have you trained everyone? Now may be the perfect time to review your handbook and conduct training on your harassment policy.