HR pros never look forward to handling harassment complaints. But it still beats what can happen if complaints aren’t handled.
Of course, you know companies need to encourage employees and managers to report harassment, and make it easy to do so.
But many companies still get tripped when trying to create effective harassment policies and complaint procedures. Here are three common mistakes the courts are finding now:
No protections against retaliation
One reason employees might hesitate to report harassment: fear of retaliation. That’s why harassment policies should mention that retaliation is not tolerated.
Also, the policy should make it clear that complaints can be made anonymously, as much as possible. Complete confidentiality can’t be guaranteed, since that might hamper the investigation – but it should be known that the person’s identity will only be revealed on a need-to-know basis.
Another common mistake is listing one person to bring complaints to. That causes big problems if that person happens to be the alleged harasser, or if he or she hears the complaint but doesn’t act on it.
Usually, the mistake is just telling employees to bring complaints to their supervisors. But even listing someone in HR might be inadequate, if that’s the only avenue. Policies should name at least two contacts (generally HR and one or more supervisors).
Too many policies are written in complicated legal jargon or just don’t do a good enough job explaining the steps of the complaint process. In court, the “We never got a complaint” defense won’t hold up if the employee can show he or she wasn’t adequately told how to bring a complaint forward.
That’s what happened in one recent case. A teenager sued her employer for harassment and won, even though no one at the company received a complaint. Why? The court saw problems with its complaint procedure. Specifically:
- Workers were told to bring complaints to their “district manager” – but not who that was or how to contact him or her, and
- Different documents gave two different phone numbers to call, neither of which reached a live person.
The judge ruled the company couldn’t have expected employees to navigate the process, especially considering some of them were minors.
Long story short: Companies need to write policies and procedures the average employee will understand.
(Cite: EEOC v. V & J Foods, Inc.)