Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reporting Harassment (or not)

When you’re being harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment, part of what happens is that you often feel isolated and you have fears (rational and irrational) that no one will believe the severity of the harm that you’re being subjected to at work. You feel like you have a bulls-eye on your back and you may feel like there’s nothing you can do to stop being a target. In fact, you may feel that reporting the harassment will do more harm that good.

Let’s face it. Many people, regardless of race, are afraid to report sensitive issues to a supervisor, manager, director or a member of Human Resources. People are afraid to look like a whiner, a troublemaker or, when it comes to race, a race-baiter.

When it comes to harassment in the workplace, it would be great if you would report the harassment to your supervisor. However, if you supervisor is the problem, you do not have to stay within your chain of command in order to deal with the problem. You have the right to speak to anyone in authority within your company.

So, if you are more comfortable with another supervisor or manager, you can report harassment to that person. According to Federal decisions, these individuals are then required to do something with that information. They can’t just sit on your report of harassment. If they do, this will increase your employer’s liability regarding any mistreatment you suffer. Therefore, these individuals are expected to report allegations of harassment (or discrimination or retaliation) to the proper authorities within the company, who can deal with the situation.

It’s also important to know that Federal decisions have declared that employers are liable for harassing behavior that may not have been reported, but was so pervasive that many people within the company knew what was happening. Employers, in this situation, cannot claim that a victim’s failure to report the harassment justified the company not putting a stop to the abuse. If knowledge of the abusive behavior permeated the workplace, employers can't pretend they didn't have an opportunity to stop it.

Employers can argue that an employee should have complained about mistreatment. However, if you had a reason to fear using preventive or corrective measures, such as you saw a previous employee attempt to report harassment, but the harassment or other illegal behavior only worsened, you won’t be held responsible for avoiding the use of those preventive and corrective measures.

The law recognizes, in some part, that a rational person would take the lesson of corporate abuse of authority and would avoid making themselves a target of attack.


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