If you’re serious about wiping out sexual and other forms of harassment in your workplace, consider adopting a zero-tolerance policy for failing to report suspected or known harassment.
By readily disciplining those who ignore that rule, you can create a new climate in which employees really believe you take harassment seriously. That may stop some employees before they make an unwanted come-on or tell a questionable joke.
What would such a rule look like? Try this language: “Any employee having knowledge or suspicion of harassment, whether or not he or she is a victim, must report that knowledge to a supervisor or call the company’s ethics hotline.”
Of course, you must be ready to respond to each report with a thorough investigation.
Recent case: Tyrone Carpenter, who is black, was an area manager in fast-food restaurant Jack in the Box’s Los Angeles region. The chain has a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and requires all employees—whether they are the victim of harassment or simply suspect someone else is being harassed—to either report the problem to a supervisor or call it in to the company hotline.
Carpenter learned about an alleged threatening phone call from one of his managers to an employee. Carpenter did report this to the HR office.
Shortly after, the manager Carpenter had reported made her own report in which she alleged that Carpenter had earlier sexually harassed her.
Carpenter was called in and told the HR office he believed the manager was making up the story because he had reported her threatening behavior. But Carpenter also told the HR office that the manager had earlier told him she had broken her finger while resisting her direct manager’s sexual advances.
Carpenter was fired for not reporting this earlier alleged sexual harassment.
He sued for race discrimination. Because he couldn’t find anyone outside his protected classification (a black male) who had been treated more leniently for not reporting suspected harassment, he lost his case. (Carpenter v. Jack in the Box, No. B204180, Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate Division, 2009)