When an employer provides a way for employees to complain about poor treatment based on harassment, it will only be liable if it knew about the offensive behavior and failed to address it.
That’s why you should be prepared to document all complaints.
Recent case: For three years, Molly worked in the elevator department at a General Mills facility. She worked primarily in a small room with a telephone, in the basement of the plant.
After she was fired for poor attendance, she sued, alleging her co-workers had been sexually harassing her the whole time. For example, she claimed that she frequently received harassing phone calls from unidentified people saying, “We don’t need a girl here,” or making pig sounds or sexual noises. She claimed pornographic materials were left in her work space once a week, as well as crude drawings and sexually suggestive comments that were scribbled on walls. Once, she discovered that the air had been let out of her tires and that a dead rat had been left in her work area.
But the company had records of Molly’s dealings with HR. Not once had she mentioned the behavior she now claimed was regular and highly offensive. She had merely complained, HR noted, that someone had referred to her as “the girl.” When asked, Molly told the court that she thought that the HR rep interviewing her should have realized that she was filing a complaint.
The court tossed out the claim, reasoning that Molly had the opportunity to complain, but didn’t. The company therefore wasn’t liable for co-worker harassment. (McBride-Crawford v. General Mills Cereals Operations, No. 12-CV-1180, WD NY, 2015)
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- Workplace rule: There's no such thing as a harmless comment
- Ask EEOC to keep employee info confidential
- Disabled employee can't work at all? You can terminate without violating FEHA
- Ignore harassment at your peril: It could embolden harasser and end in disaster