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Address harassment complaint with thorough investigation—and quick action to fix problems

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t decided any big sexual harassment cases for several years. That doesn’t mean the problem has disappeared or that employers should slack off in their efforts to prevent and fix sexual harassment.

Instead, review your training program to make sure sexual harassment gets the attention it deserves. Then be sure to investigate any harassment complaints you receive. Then fix them promptly.

Recent case:
Sheron Smith worked as a driver for a faith-based children’s agency, transporting children to and from foster-care facilities and home placements. She complained that one of her supervisors—with whom she had only occasional contact, since she spent almost all of her time on the road—had made sexual advances toward her.

When Smith told HR about the problem, it immediately investigated her allegations. It concluded that, while the supervisor’s actions may have been inappropriate, Smith had participated in some “joking” behavior herself. Management suspended the supervisor for five days and had him undergo sexual harassment training. Then it closed the case. Smith was not disciplined, and there were no further problems.

She sued anyway, alleging she had been forced to work in a sexually hostile environment.

The court dismissed her complaint, explaining that the behavior she described, though inappropriate, was not severe enough to constitute sexual harassment.

Plus, the court said the inappropriate behavior didn’t affect Smith’s ability to perform her job, since she spent almost all of her time driving. The court also noted that the company acted promptly to fix the problem. (Smith v. Family Enrichment Center, No. 8:08-CV-450, MD FL, 2009)

Is your sexual harassment policy up-to-date? Is it displayed where employees can see it? Are the phone numbers, names and e-mail addresses for reporting alleged harassment still correct? Do you still include sexual harassment training in your training schedule? If not, now is a good time to update everything.

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