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Use clear policy to thwart harassment claims

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

One of the best ways to fight hostile work environment claims: a handbook with a strong sexual harassment policy that shows em­ployees exactly how they should report problems. That’s because courts don’t have much patience for employees who claim they endured months or even years of sexual har­­assment but didn’t bother to report the problem using the process clearly outlined in the handbook.

Recent case: Esmerelda accepted a job as a utility worker on a power plant construction site run by Fluor Enterprises. Then she resigned … and sued Fluor, alleging that she had actually been forced to quit because of horrible working conditions.

Esmerelda claimed that the sidewalks and walls at the plant were covered with sexually explicit graffiti, including pictures of naked women, male genitalia and people engaged in sexual acts. She also said that sometimes liquids would drip on her as she walked under elevated areas, suggesting that perhaps these were some form of body fluid like urine.

Fluor challenged her account. It pointed out that Esmerelda had received a copy of the employee handbook, which included an extensive section on sexual harassment, along with specific instructions on how to report alleged incidents. It said employees should complain to their supervisors or HR, for example. As an alternative, they could also call a hotline.

Esmerelda admitted she had never reported the problems to anyone. Plus, when questioned, she confessed that she noticed some of the graffiti because workers were actually removing it in response to someone else’s complaint. She acknowledged that Fluor made an effort after that to regularly look for graffiti and remove it.

The court tossed out her case, concluding Esmerelda should have reported the problems. (Smith v. Fluor Enterprises, No. 4:10-CV-03625, SD TX, 2013)

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