Graffiti usually appears where the author is least likely to be caught creating it. Popular workplace spots are lavatories and work site portable toilets. And offensive graffiti can create an almost instantly hostile work environment.
That’s why HR should remind supervisors to immediately report any graffiti—no matter where they find it. Then you need to make sure it’s immediately removed.
Supervisors should do spot inspections, too. Employers that show they proactively try to prevent a hostile work environment are more likely to win lawsuits. Likely losers in court: Employers that ignore such obvious problems and let employees suffer humiliation every time they visit the restroom or other workplace locations.
Recent case: The EEOC sued Ceisel Masonry after several Hispanic employees complained they had to work in a hostile environment.
Among their claims were allegations that the portable toilets employees used at job sites were covered with offensive graffiti aimed at Hispanics. Among the offensive statements was a sign that read, “Take a green card” with an arrow pointing to the toilet paper.
Several job site supervisors even admitted they knew about the graffiti since they used the portable toilets, too. But they didn’t report the problem or do anything about removing it. The company didn’t even have a written harassment policy, and supervisors didn’t know how to handle graffiti or other harassment complaints.
The court said the graffiti was pervasive and severe enough to create a hostile environment and sent the case to trial. A jury will decide whether the company did enough to prevent or remedy the harassment. (EEOC v. Ceisel Masonry, No. 06-C-2075, ND IL, 2009)
Advice: Provide field supervisors with a graffiti-removal kit. Graffiti remover spray is readily available at home improvement stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. Remember, having the bathrooms serviced (or provided) by a third-party doesn’t mean your organization is off the hook. Insist they also remove graffiti promptly.
- Accept public funds? Then don't use religion as basis for making employment decisions
- Am I permitted to communicate directly with employees' medical professionals?
- Lost the case? Ask for damages to be spelled out.
- Consistent policy, smart response get you off the hook for retaliation
- Avoid the legal risks lurking in your job applications