By Meghan Droste, September 18, 2019
Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Nevada to do an onsite training for a fantastic group of HR professionals. In talking through various issues related to harassment, we discussed an agency’s obligation to take prompt and effective corrective action when it substantiates an allegation of harassment (sexual or otherwise).
This is, of course, a legal obligation but it also goes a long way to ensuring that employees have faith in the agency and its willingness and ability to take harassment allegations seriously. If employees see that the agency takes these allegations seriously, they should be more likely to report harassment, hopefully before it rises to the level of legal liability, and less likely to commit harassment. This will result in a more productive work environment and fewer instances of liability for the agency.
During the class, we discussed examples of what would undermine employees’ trust in an agency. One situation that came up was an agency giving an award to an individual after finding the employee had engaged in harassment. From the perspective of a complainant’s representative, this type of situation jumps out at me. I would, of course, use such an award to argue that the agency was not taking the harassment seriously. See Complainant v. James, EEOC App. No. 0120123332 (Sept. 10., 2014) (finding the agency’s failure to discipline the harasser “communicated to employees that the [a]gency did not take racial harassment seriously”). After all, how could it assert that it took prompt and effective corrective action if it followed any discipline it issued with a reward for the harasser? See Quinn v. Tenn. Valley Auth., EEOC App. No. 01956441 (Jan. 30, 1998) (finding the agency’s promotion of the harasser after the allegations of harassment to be “inexplicable”).
This practice tip grew out of the class discussion: A participant said she recommends that managers send all proposed awards to HR before awarding them so that HR can cross check the potential recipient with any open or recently closed harassment complaints and investigations. This sounds like a good practice to me. While I hope that your managers are well-trained and know that giving an award to someone who harassed another employee would be problematic, this extra level of review ensures that the agency does not get tripped up by someone who doesn’t see the big picture. Droste@FELTG.com