Human Resources News & Insights

Lack of Spanish translation of harassment policy snares employer

Another example of why it’s crucial to keep updating policies and procedures in an increasingly diverse workplace: A Colorado vegetable wholesaler’s in hot water because its anti-sex harassment policy wasn’t available in Spanish.

Nine Spanish employees of The Spud Seller, Inc. complained they were victims of sexual harassment on the part of their supervisor, Mauricio Gaytan.

Spud Seller had a policy against sexual harassment, which it outlined in its employee handbook. The handbook directed employees to report incidents of sexual harassment to “your supervisor, the Office Manager or … whichever person you feel most comfortable discussing it with.”

It handbook also advised employees that “You can feel safe that your complaint will receive immediate attention and if the facts support your complaint, the offender will be disciplined.”

Did Hispanic employees understand policy?

Sounds like a pretty sound policy, correct? There was just one problem — the handbook was printed only in English. There was no Spanish translation. For employees who didn’t speak English, the policy was “explained” in Spanish.

The district court judge wasn’t impressed. “The handbook that contained the policy was in English, and there is no evidence that its provisions were translated into Spanish or that written translations were supplied to Spanish speaking employees. There is evidence that the policy was ‘explained’ in Spanish, but it is not clear what was actually explained,” she wrote.

“Due to the makeup of the workforce,” the judge continued, “assuming that a Spanish speaking employee had a complaint, she could not bring it directly to the persons identified in the policy because they did not speak Spanish. Instead, she would have to supply her own interpreter or rely on another Spud Seller employee, which necessarily deprived her of confidentiality.”

And here’s the worst part: The only bilingual employee in the company — the person who’d be in charge of  “explaining” the policy — was Mauricio Gaytan.

The upshot: The judge dismissed the company’s bid to have the case dismissed, so the suit now heads to trial. And that means either a lengthy, expensive court proceeding or an expensive settlement.

The case is EEOC v. The Spud Seller, Inc.

About the Author: Senior Corporate Recruiter for Progressive Business Publications, Liz Webb is a 20 year HR veteran.  Visit PBP’s LinkedIn page.

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