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Remove offensive materials, then educate staff

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When sexually offensive signs or pictures appear in the workplace, it’s smart to remove them right away. But getting rid of tasteless material isn’t enough to stop a harassment lawsuit. This case shows that it pays to go one step further by educating employees on harassment.

Recent case: Carolina Medina worked for the U.S. Postal Service and filed a complaint against her supervisor. She alleged that over the course of several years, he sexually harassed her by demanding dates. She also claimed she had to endure a sexually hostile work environment after someone posted a handmade sign that declared “pre menopausal women work here.” At the time, Medina was the only woman working in her section.

As soon as Medina complained about the sign, it disappeared. She sued for harassment anyway.

The Postal Service argued to the court that it met its anti-harassment obligations by promptly removing offensive material.

The court disagreed. It said that because management neither con­­demned the sign nor called a meeting to explain why it was inappropriate, a jury should decide whether the post office took action de­­signed to reasonably stop and prevent further harassment.

Plus, it wasn’t clear exactly who did remove the sign. If it were the person who put it up, his or her voluntary removal wasn’t relevant at all. (Medina v. Donahoe, No. 10-CV-004760, ND CA, 2012)

Best practice: Conduct spot inspections to find any offensive materials. Check bathrooms, locker rooms and other places where employees go. If you find offensive materials, remove them and then call a meeting condemning them and stating your firm policy: Anyone caught engaging in harassment will be disciplined.

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