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Managers: Don’t sit on harassment claim, notify designated person

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

When does a company officially "know" of a harassment complaint? It's not always when the complaint is lodged with the designated person in your reporting procedures. If your lower-level managers get wind of it, consider yourself on notice.

In this case, Pamela Wallace complained numerous times to two supervisors that she was being sexually harassed. The company's handbook said harassment reports should be lodged with one of two specific individuals, one at corporate headquarters, the other a facility general manager. But Wallace showed that employees also were told that they could take complaints to their immediate supervisors, so that's what she did.

Her complaints went nowhere and she sued.

Her employer tried to get the case tossed out, saying that Wallace failed to use the written anti-harassment reporting policy. But a district court let the case proceed. Reason: The gap between what the written policy said and what Wallace was told was enough to suggest that management "knew or should have known of the harassment," the court said. (Wallace v. Valentino's of Lincoln, No. 4:01CV3262, D.Neb., 2002)

Advice: Don't let your well-meaning policy statements trip you up. A seemingly minor discrepancy between a written policy and verbal instructions can become a major problem. Make all managers aware of who should receive harassment complaints and remind managers that they're responsible for forwarding any harassment complaints to that designated person.

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