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Why it is So Important to Train all managers and supervisors to identify harassment

By Nancy E. Joerg, Esq., Managing Shareholder – St. Charles Office, Wessels Sherman Joerg Liszka Laverty Seneczko P.C., St. Charles, Illinois, (630) 377-1554, najoerg@wesselssherman.com, www.wesselssherman.com

To protect the Company from becoming a defendant in a devastating lawsuit, all managers and supervisors must be carefully and periodically trained to recognize workplace harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

COURTS LOOK TO SEE WHAT EMPLOYER DID TO HANDLE ALLEGED HARASSMENT: Without the proper and extensive training of managers and supervisors, an employee’s harassment complaint may never make its way to those people who are in charge of investigating workplace complaints. If the complaint is not passed along to the right people in the Company, this roadblock could expose the Company to significant financial risk. Judges usually evaluate what, if anything, the Company tried to do to handle the alleged harassment.

Naturally, the better trained and confident the Company’s managers and supervisors are to recognize and report harassment problems in the workplace, the more quickly the Company can take prompt and appropriate action to resolve the alleged harassment, and to avoid expensive lawsuits.

SUPERVISORS AND MANAGERS SHOULD CONTACT HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTLY THEMSELVES: Managers and supervisors should immediately report any complaint of harassment to Human Resources (or any individual selected by the Company as the person with ultimate responsibility for investigating complaints of harassment).

Often, managers and supervisors mistakenly tell a complaining employee that the employee must report the harassment problem to another person, such as the Director of Human Resources and/or put the complaint down in writing. An employee may feel intimidated or marginalized when he or she is directed to another person or told to write up a detailed formal complaint.

Dangerously, the employee might change his/her mind and fail to further report the complaint. If that “failure to report” occurs, the interests of both the employee and the Company suffer because the complaint never gets promptly investigated (or even addressed at all in some cases). Therefore, supervisors and managers should be thoroughly trained to contact Human Resources directly themselves (and at once, with no delay!) if they receive a harassment complaint, no matter how meritless it might appear.

CONFIDENTIAL COMPLAINTS STILL COUNT: An employee sometimes complains to a supervisor or manager that a coworker engaged in harassment but asks the supervisor or manager to “keep it between us for now.” This request is usually because the employee fears a backlash from co-workers, the alleged harasser, or even management. In this situation, the supervisor or manager should explain to the employee that he/she cannot hold any compliant confidential. It should be emphasized that the Company will not tolerate retaliation for the employee making the complaint; the Company faces legal liability if it fails to investigate every complaint made.

As a manager or supervisor, do not promise confidentiality ever. It is a type of promise that the Company may not be able to honor. Assure the complaining employee that Company policy strictly prohibits retaliation against the employee making a complaint and that the employee should immediately report any retaliation to his/her supervisor or Human Resources.

CONCLUSiON: Managers and supervisors must deal promptly with any allegations of harassment whether or not there has been a written or formal complaint. They must take all complaints or concerns of alleged or possible harassment or discrimination seriously (do not “pre-judge”!) no matter how minor or who is involved.

Managers and supervisors must also ensure that harassment or inappropriate conduct is immediately reported to Human Resources so that a prompt investigation can occur.

The Company must also take any appropriate action to prevent retaliation or prohibited conduct from recurring during and after any investigations or complaints.

The bottom line: Managers and supervisors who knowingly allow or tolerate harassment or retaliation, including the failure to immediately report such conduct to Human Resources, are in violation of the law and are putting the Company in great legal and financial jeopardy.

For assistance with training managers and supervisors how to identify harassment, contact Attorney Nancy E. Joerg who can be reached at Wessels Sherman’s St. Charles, Illinois office: 630-377-1554 or email her at najoerg@wesselssherman.com.

Areas of Practice: Nancy Joerg represents employers in administrative actions, hearings, and audits before the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Cook County Commission on Human Rights, the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the Illinois Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

She assists employers with anti-harassment training, sex harassment investigations, non-compete and confidentiality agreements, all types of unemployment insurance (IDES) audits and hearings, independent contractor matters, discrimination charges, Employee Classification Act complaints, employee termination issues, and wage & hour issues (including exempt/non-exempt status for overtime, deductions from wages, and state and federal wage claims). Nancy Joerg effectively counsels and advises clients concerning preventive efforts such as the preparation and review of severance and release agreements, independent contractor owner-operator agreements, independent contractor-based manuals and websites, employee handbooks and personnel policies, and the development of strategies to help ensure exemptions from overtime.

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