You can fire managers who ignore harassment complaints

The best harassment policy in the world isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if employees don’t take it seriously. To show your policy has teeth, you have to let it bite.

Always discipline employees who ignore your harassment policy. The more serious the consequences are for your organization, the greater the punishment should be.

It’s perfectly legal—wise, in fact—to discipline or discharge supervisors who sit on sexual harassment complaints. It sends the right message: Your organization takes harassment complaints seriously.

Reason: If an employee later says her supervisor ignored her attempt to report harassment, you really have no defense.

Recent case: Wanda Taylor worked as a low-level administrator for the Brandywine School District. When a female student approached her to complain about a harassing teacher, Taylor told her to talk to the assistant principal. But the student said that the assistant principal had made sexual comments to her also. Taylor didn’t report the student’s complaint.

Months later, the allegations came to light. The school district fired Taylor because it had a strict policy that employees were to immediately report any sexual harassment complaints up the chain of command. Taylor sued, alleging discrimination.

The court tossed out the case, reasoning that the school district had a legitimate reason to fire Taylor for failing to promptly report harassment, as its policy required. (Taylor v. Brandywine School District, No. 05-4803, 3rd Cir., 2006)