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Give managers a 3-phrase script to respond to harassment complaints

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

When one of your employees confides in her manager that she’s being harassed by a co-worker, what will that manager say? Hopefully, it’ll be something more constructive than “Go along with it.”

Recent case: Sheryl Bjornson, a used car salesperson, complained to her boss that the general manager had cracked sexual jokes, made comments about her body and repeatedly touched her. Her boss’s response: “Go along with it.”

Bjornson eventually complained to HR. It didn’t interview the parties, but simply disciplined the general manager with a warning.

Bjornson sued for sexual harassment. A jury awarded her $100,000 in punitive damages, saying the dealership acted with “malice and reckless indifference” in allowing the harassment despite her complaints. (Bjornson v. Dave Smith Motors, 7/31/08)

Advice: As part of your harassment training, teach all managers and supervisors (and everyone else with reporting responsibilities) how to respond to complaints. Use a simple, consistent three-phrase script: 

  •  “I’m glad you told me.”
  •  “You are very important to us.”
  • “I will help you immediately!”

Then, train the manager/supervisor to immediately call HR and report the incident.

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