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Insist all harassment allegations go to HR for review

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Nothing will cause trouble faster than a manager or supervisor who doesn’t report a subordinate’s alleged harassment. If no one reports the problem, it may resurface later—for example, after the employee has been discharged for valid reasons.

Recent case: Carrie Meyer had employment law experience, having sued her former employer. So when she started a new job, she began keeping careful records of all her work problems. In fact, she had more than 80 pages of single-spaced typed notes by the time she was fired for failing to meet her goals.

Among other allegations in her notes, she reported that her supervisor continually asked her out, stared at her breasts and threatened to withhold an office unless she dated him. She also claimed that she had reported the problem to another supervisor, who allegedly told her that there was nothing he could do because her harasser was politically well connected.

Meyer was fired, and she sued for sexual harassment. A court said she had enough evidence to take both state and federal sexual harassment claims to trial. It did dismiss her retaliation claim, noting that she had been fired for legitimate work-related reasons. (Meyer v. Macomb Township, et al., No. 06-14953, ED MI, 2008)

Final note: Employers should consider instituting a toll-free hotline employees can use to report harassment or discrimination. If you make it simple for employees to come forward, it will be easier to show a jury that your organization takes complaints seriously. Relying strictly on chain-of-command reports is risky business.

While there is no effective defense against so-called quid pro quo harassment (in which a supervisor says an employee will be fired unless she submits to sexual advances), employers can win other harassment lawsuits with effective reporting mechanisms. Employees who unreasonably fail to take advantage of something like a hotline to report harassment can’t later sue if reporting the problem would have given the company a chance to fix the problem.

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