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Preventing harassment: not a ‘one and done’ deal

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Supervisors have a duty to respond to any employee harassment, but that duty doesn't stop once you take action the first time. You must remain on constant vigil for additional outbursts, then react immediately to those, too. As a recent ruling shows, courts won't look kindly on employers, or managers, who stop harassing incidents once, but ignore subsequent flare-ups. In fact, a "We dealt with it once" argument may actually incite more legal wrath.

Case in point: An African-American employee complained about racist graffiti in the restroom, so his employer painted over it. But the graffiti reappeared, this time with a death threat that included the employee's name. He complained again. His supervisor shrugged off the second complaint, allegedly saying: "I got it off once. What do you want me to do, tear the wall down?" The graffiti stayed for five months until the employee resigned. He sued, and a federal court let the case go to trial, saying the manager's reaction was sorely lacking. (Reedy v. Quebecor Printing Eagle, Inc., No. 02-3637, 8th Cir., 2004)

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