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Don’t Let Your Harassment Policy Gather Dust on a Shelf, by David McClurg
Some employers include a good anti-harassment policy in their Employee Handbook, and feel they’ve done all they need to do to protect themselves against sexual or racial harassment claims. In truth, a good policy is just the first step in a successful program to insulate an employer from harassment claims.
In Mann v. Staples, Inc., a female employee received unwelcome comments about her appearance and physique, was kissed and groped, and called a "skank ass bitch." A New Jersey appellate court described this as a "pattern of systemic sexual harassment" -- one in which the alleged harasser appeared to have never received any anti-harassment training. However, the court affirmed summary judgment for the employer and dismissed the plaintiff's Complaint on the basis of the employer's implementation of a sound sexual harassment policy and related complaint procedure and a good training program:
[T]he facts in this matter show defendant had a specific policy prohibiting sexual harassment; trained its management personnel on these policies; made available a defined and publicized procedure for a victim to present harassment complaints; completed a detailed process to investigate those complaints; and followed through with identifiable remedial and corrective action.
The Court offered the following advice:
A company that develops policies reflecting a lack of tolerance for harassment will have less concern about hostile work environment or punitive damages claims if its good-faith attempts include periodic publication to workers of the employer's anti-harassment policy; an effective and practical grievance process; and training sessions for workers, supervisors, and managers about how to recognize and eradicate unlawful harassment.
Given the EEOC’s aggressive pursuit of sexual harassment cases, employers would be well advised to review/update their anti-harassment policies and schedule training for their workers, supervisors and managers.