September 13, 2016

Harassment Policy Not Enough to Minimize Employer Liability

By: Stephanie Metzinger

The Society for Human Resource Management recently reported a case setting the precedent that a detailed policy is not always enough to shield an employer against liability for sexual harassment.

An employee of the Caddo Parish School Board in Louisiana felt that she was being verbally and physically harassed by her supervisor, but failed to make an official complaint to the school board at the time of the occurrence. When the employee did decide to file a lawsuit alleging unlawful harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 years later, the lower court decided that the school board had exercised “reasonable care.” The court concluded that the school board had maintained a detailed sexual harassment policy, posted it on bulletin boards and provided sexual harassment training to its employees on a regular basis.

The ruling was appealed and the appeals court reversed and sent the case back to the lower court. The appeals court noted that an alleged victim’s awareness of a sexual harassment policy is relevant to whether an employer exercised “reasonable care” to prevent harassment. The plaintiff produced witnesses willing to testify that, among the clerical staff, employees had not received harassment training, were neither informed of the policy nor shown where to find it, and were not told who to contact regarding complaints of sexual harassment.

Starting in October, Western Growers (WG) will host a series of trainings throughout California to help businesses effectively implement policies that help minimize employer liability for sexual harassment. WG’s Harassment, Discrimination & Abusive Conduct Prevention trainings will illustrate the importance of employer policies being well-communicated and explained to employees in order to be legally and operationally effective. Policies that exist only in a binder are not enough.

Western Growers’ trainings will assist managers in learning what steps need to be taken to ensure that all employees understand the organization’s policy on harassment and discrimination. The training will provide managers and supervisors with a comprehensive understanding of what behavior constitutes harassment and discrimination, how to be sensitive to their own behavior and the behavior of the employees around them, and how to understand what conditions might lead to a claim of harassment or discrimination by an employee.

WG’s Harassment, Discrimination & Abusive Conduct Prevention courses are being offered in both English and Spanish. All sessions are available to all WG members and their employees for $60.00. The first workshop will be held on October 13, 2016, in Imperial, Calif.

Register for the October 13 session or keep up to date on the future trainings by visiting the WG Upcoming Events page. For more information, contact Adriana Robles at (949) 885-2297.