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Did you know that it is unlawful to retaliate and/or terminate an employee (even a temporary employee) for filing a harassment complaint? 

A Specialty Foods Company in Michigan found out the hard way.  Safie Specialty Foods ended up having to settle a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $125,000.00.  In their case, two female production workers, one of whom was a temporary worker, filed complaints with the Shift Supervisor of sexual advances and comments made by their lead food processor – who also happened to be the husband of someone in management.  Instead of investigating the complaints, the Company terminated the shift supervisor, both female workers and a corroborating witness.  The EEOC filed suit on behalf of the workers alleging that the Company’s conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Sounds unbelievable doesn’t it.  But the reality is businesses fall subject to these types of complaints and costly consequences more than you know.  Knowledge is key.

So let’s start by defining workplace harassment.  Put simply, it is unwelcome conduct based on gender, race, color, religion or other character protected by law.  What does harassment look like?  It can be jokes that mock cultural behavior; repeatedly asking someone out for a date; cat calling or inappropriate comments; insults; refusing someone a promotion; the list goes on and on.  What matters is that as an employer, you are responsible for the acts of harassment that occur in the workplace and whether that results in expensive lawsuits or fines is dependent on the steps you’ve taken to prevent harassment and/or respond to complaints appropriately.   

So what should you do?  1) Have a harassment policy in your employee handbook or as a standalone policy; 2) Take all allegations of harassment seriously, 3) conduct an appropriate investigation; and respond appropriately to the findings which may include terminating the harasser(s).  Not doing so can cost you like it cost Safie Specialty Foods.

Need a Harassment Policy for your business? Need help investigating a complaint? We’re here to help! Email us at info@hrandbeyond.com or visit www.hrandbeyond.com.

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