Normally, companies can’t be sued if a harassment victim fails to make a complaint to management or HR. But not when a court decides it’s the company’s fault no complaint was filed.
The EEOC gives three reasons employees may have for not complaining — and what companies can do to make sure employees have a chance to voice their concerns:
- “I thought I’d get in trouble if I complained” — Fear of retaliation is a common reason employees give for not telling HR or their managers about harassment, according to the EEOC. That’s why a good harassment policy will include provisions against retaliation and make it clear that employees will not be punished for raising their concerns.
- “The process was too difficult” — Another reason victims may not complain is that the reporting procedure made it too difficult — for example, if the designated contacts are hard to get a hold of, or if the language is confusing about who employees should complain to. Courts look at harassment policies to see if there are any “unreasonable obstacles” to filing a grievance. If there are, the company could be held liable even if the employee never complained.
- “I didn’t think it would do any good” — Employees may also decide not to complain about harassment if the company’s policy requires them to report the conduct directly to the harassing supervisor. For that reason, employers should provide multiple avenues for reporting.