Another doozy I recently heard. Not having a harassment prevention policy is bad, bad idea. The absence of a policy offers NO upside. It does not give the employer leeway to harass, overlook harassment, or engage or abstain from any other behavior that runs counter to harassment and discrimination law. Even if you do not have a handbook (another risky proposition, but that’s for another post), you must have a harassment prevention plan. The plan starts with a solid policy. It also includes a well-publicized complaint procedure and plans to investigate workplace concerns that arise. And don’t forget training.
Harkening back to my last post on harassment (see here), I want to highlight a recent case that makes the same point, namely that sexual harassment does not have to have anything to do with sexual desire. In Waldo v. Consumers Energy Co., decided by the Sixth Circuit earlier this month, Theresa Waldo won a jury verdict for sexual harassment. Her claim was based on the following behaviors:
- She was repeatedly called derogatory and demeaning names, such as “bitch” and “wench.”
- Coworkers threw her purse out of a work truck and into the dirt, telling her that “there were no purses allowed in these trucks.” When she responded by carrying a smaller purse in her pocket, she was called a “dike.”
- Her coworkers refused to let her travel to a bathroom, instead telling her that if she “wanted to work a man’s job,” she had “to pee like a man.”
- Coworkers locked her in a porta-potty with duct tape.
- Coworkers isolated her at work sites by excluding her from lunch trips and forcing her to walk instead of riding in trucks with the male employees.
- There were sexually explicit pictures on the work trucks.
The porta-potty scene alone would be enough to raise an inference of harassment, in my view. Have you seen the movie North Country? Charlize Theron as a mine worker bringing the first sex harassment class action in the country (and based on a true story). I talk about North Country a bit in my harassment training. For exactly this reason. Abusive behavior directed at someone because of his or her gender IS harassment, plain and simple.
(Hat tip to Jon Hyman for the latest case update, and check out his link for a different take on the case).