Saturday, May 12, 2007

Workplace harassment - Dealing with Troublesome Employees

Does your company have a policy of dealing with harassment issues? Some reasons for having a good policy in place.

Not dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace costs a construction company $60,000.00. Such was the story in the May 8th of The Arizona Republic. All because the company lacked a policy for reporting harassment and dealing with the problem in-house.

The Employer's Law Blog reports on Andreoli v. Gates, a case from the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision came down last month.

The court allowed Andreoli to proceed on her claim because of the inaction on the part of the Department of Defense. An individual can prevail on a sexual harassment claim if the employer was reckless or negligent in training, disciplining, firing, or otherwise taking remedial action when notified of harassment by a co-worker. Here, the court looked at the timing of the incidents and the employer’s response. In the eleven year period since the complaints were first raised, DeLutiis never received sexual harassment training, nor did he ever receive discipline or counseling regarding his behavior. The only discipline DeLutiis received was a memo instructing him to stay away from Andreoli, after she had already left her position.

This case highlights the importance of taking prompt remedial action to address complaints of discrimination or harassment in the workplace. The alleged lackadaisical response by this employer left it exposed to claims that it failed to properly respond to Andreoli′s complaints.
Title VII applies to employers with more 14 or more employees. Small businesses are most likely to have a problem with this type of case (which might make you wonder what was the problem with the Department of Defense). Their very smallness makes a formal complaint and response procedure difficult to keep from sliding into the informality inherent in a small business. That will make no difference when the Indiana Civil Rights Commission comes to investigate.

I had a call last week about harassment but with different facts than this Arizona case. The person calling me was receiving harassment because she received a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I am waiting now to see what action the business takes to stop the harassment. It was a small, family owned business.

Smaller businesses also find themselves more vulnerable because they do want the expenditure for legal services. Sixty thousand dollars exceeds in terms of magnitude what any preventive legal services would cost the business owner.