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Making light of complaints adds dollars to damages

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in HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

If an employee says he or she is being sexually harassed, it’s management’s job to take the complaint seriously. Those who don’t may have to pay dearly—because a jury may order that the victim receive punitive damages, too.

The quickest way to earn those punitive damages is to make light of complaints. As the following case shows, that can mean an extra payment of three times the actual damages—or even more.

Recent case: Nancy Parker was one of only a few female employees in her workplace. She complained numerous times about several male co-workers, who called her sexually charged names and commented on their sexual activities.

Unfortunately, the company’s HR director didn’t take her seriously. Once, he even commented that she should expect a certain amount of sexual banter in the shop setting. Finally, Parker went to the chairman of the board—who told her the behavior would stop.

However, it didn’t stop, and she again contacted HR. The HR director not only didn’t call her back, but he took the day off. Later, he explained he avoided her because he wanted to call the company attorney first. But it was too late. Parker quit.

Then she sued, and a jury concluded she worked in a sexually hostile environment. It awarded her $25,000 in actual damages for lost wages and mental suffering. But then the court concluded she was entitled to a bonus—another $100,000—because the HR director largely ignored her complaints. (Parker v. General Extrusions, No. 06-3353, 6th Cir., 2007)

Advice: Develop a sound company policy for handling employee complaints. Make sure employees know how the system works. Follow it thoroughly and fairly every time an employee complains.

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