Legal

Alternate Complaint Avenues and Harassment Prevention

By Jon Hyman

Sep. 26, 2013

In a story that reads more like an un-filmed script from The Office instead of an actual workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against an Atlanta-area cargo and freight transportation company. The female manager on whose behalf the EEOC filed suit alleged that the company’s owner and CEO subjected her to the following:

The harassment included a barrage of lewd sexual comments, gestures, and e-mails about the employee’s breasts, many of which were sent to other employees in the office. The CEO also kept a pair of rubber breasts on his desk along with a jar of Vaseline, visible to all employees and customers who visited the company facility.

As is often the case when an allegation of harassment involves a senior executive at a company, she claimed that management ignored her complaints.

This story illustrates two important and related points about an effective harassment-prevention program:

  1. A effective anti-harassment policy must provide multiple avenues for an aggrieved employee to complain. Otherwise, an employee will feel powerless if the person to whom a policy directs her to complain also happens to be the alleged harasser. At a minimum, a policy should state that an employee can complain to HR, or to any supervisor, manager, or executive. In an ideal world, a company should also provide a telephone hotline and email account into which an employee can send complaint.

  2. No amount of avenues to complain will make any difference if a company has a culture of covering up complaints levied against members of senior management. A company must take all harassment complaints seriously. It cannot ignore a complaint just because the alleged harasser also happens to be the company’s CEO.

Ensuring that your harassment-prevention program incorporates these two ideas will position your organization to deter and investigate all levels of harassment in your workplace, even that which starts at the very top.

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com. You can also follow Jon on Twitter @jonhyman.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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