It’s been many years since a big sexual harassment case hit the Supreme Court. That’s no reason for employers to rest easy.
Regularly review your sexual harassment policy to make sure it’s doing what it should do. That is, make sure that employees who want to report suspected sexual harassment have a clear and easy way to do so.
Don’t forget to train new managers and supervisors on how to handle complaints, especially those who have recently been promoted from lower-ranking positions. Warn them against trying to casually or informally resolve complaints. Instead, make it clear they should give the employee a copy of the sexual harassment policy and report the problem to an appropriate manager or HR.
Recent case: Janice Blackmon went to work for Wal-Mart after she left her job at Burger King. When she had worked at the restaurant, she claimed her supervisor had sexually harassed her.
Much to Blackmon’s dismay, that same supervisor now worked at Wal-Mart—although not as her supervisor.
Wal-Mart had a clear sexual harassment policy, and all new employees got a copy. The policy stated that Wal-Mart “has zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind.”
It went on to state that no employee was allowed to engage in “any kind of offensive physical contact or physical touching,” whether or not that conduct would be serious enough to meet the legal definition of sexual harassment.
Finally, the policy gave employees several ways to complain, including reporting to a salaried member of
The man who had harassed Blackmon at Burger King started making sexually suggestive comments to her. She told a nonsalaried supervisor, who directed her to follow the reporting policy. The supervisor spoke with the alleged harasser.
Then the man allegedly grabbed Blackmon’s breasts. Blackmon complained up the chain of command.
Wal-Mart investigated and interviewed a store greeter who confirmed that Blackmon had been inappropriately grabbed. The alleged harasser was fired.
Shortly after, Blackmon was also fired for a series of attendance and other work problems. She sued, alleging sexual harassment.
But the court tossed out her claim. It said Wal-Mart’s policy was clearly effective. Since the alleged harasser was not Blackmon’s supervisor, Wal-Mart was not liable, since it acted promptly to stop the harassment. (Blackmon v. Wal-Mart Stores, No. 08-80685, SD FL, 2009)
Final note: Don’t let supervisors get complacent about sexual harassment. Regularly remind them that when a co-worker harasses, the company won’t be liable if it has reasonable measures in place to prevent that harassment and a way to stop it if it does happen.
Everyone should receive regular sexual harassment training, whether they want it or not.
Also remember that the best way to stop sexual harassment from flourishing is to severely punish those who violate the policy.
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