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Use break room posters to cut legal liability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

Employers know they are supposed to provide their employees with in­­­­for­mation about how to handle discrimination or harassment. Most employers put up a poster on a break room bulletin board to outline the process.

This simple practice can prove invaluable when an employee tries to use ignorance as an excuse for not complaining right away. If there’s a conspicuous poster, she’ll have a hard time arguing she didn’t understand how to report discrimination or harassment.

Recent case: Gina Jenkins is a civilian employee working for the Navy. Federal employees have to file an internal EEO complaint within 45 days of experiencing discrimination or harassment. Jenkins claimed she was subjected to daily requests for sex, fondling and other sexual behavior.

When she complained to management, she was informed she could file an EEO complaint, but she said she didn’t want to. At that point, how­ever, the touching and other har­ass­ment she complained about appar­ently stopped. But Jenkins said she began to feel ostracized by co-workers who told her they weren’t allowed to speak with her. That’s when she sued.

The Navy argued she hadn’t filed her internal complaint in time. Jenkins argued that man­agers persuaded her not to.

The court rejected Jenkins’ argument, partly because it was clear that she knew about the requirement. She admitted reading a poster providing detailed information on how to complain. The case was dismissed. (Jenkins v. Mabus, No. 10-2249, 8th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Act fast on a sexual harassment complaint to cut potential liability. Employees who don’t meet filing deadlines lose the right to sue if the harassment has stopped. The deadline for federal employees to file an internal EEO complaint is 45 days.

For private-sector employees, the deadline is 300 days from the last discriminatory act to file an EEOC complaint.

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