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Train and track to beat harassment lawsuits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employers aren’t required to prevent all harassment—just to stop it when it happens and take reasonable preventive steps. Two of those: Providing anti-harassment training to every employee and tracking who gets that training.

If the training includes ­instruction on how to report harassment or other discrimination complaints (and it should), you should also track who reports problems, when they did and how you resolved the case.

Taken together, training and tracking prevent employees from claiming harassment after the fact—because they won’t be able to explain why they didn’t complain when they knew how the system was designed to work.

Recent case: When Bernadine, a black woman, was terminated from her management position, she sued, alleging she had suffered from sexual and other forms of discrimination for years.

She claimed that male subordinates of Somali descent created a hostile work environment by calling her a “black bitch.” She said they refused to answer phones because that was “women’s work.” She alleged they asked if she was looking for a man when she wore African-inspired clothing and told her they thought it was OK for Somali pirates to kill Americans and take their ships.

Bernadine’s employer argued that Bernadine never reported these subordinate problems, even though the company had a strict anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy and had sent her to a 10-week supervision class that included information on reporting such problems.

The court dismissed the case, reasoning that Bernadine knew how to report harassment and couldn’t now claim that her em­­ployer hadn’t helped her when she never filed a complaint. (Stewart v. Rise, No. 12-CV-1187, DC MN, 2013)

Final note: Everyone should receive harassment and discrimination reporting training when hired and regularly afterwards. Get their signatures on the policy and track attendance with sign-in sheets, too.

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