HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

Is Your Anti-Harassment Policy Translated Into Multiple Languages?

By Eric B. Meyer

When an employer is faced with a sexual-harassment lawsuit, one of its best defenses is that the company took reasonable care (e.g., policy, training) to prevent sexual harassment (and then addressed complaints in a manner that is reasonably designed to end the sexual harassment)

In EEOC v. Spud Seller, the employer had an anti-harassment policy that detailed what constitutes sexual harassment and how to report it. Further, it specifically advised employees that, “You can feel state that your complaint will receive immediate attention and if the facts support your complaint, the offender will be disciplined.”

Sounds good to me.

Except … the policy was printed only in English. And in EEOC vs. Spud Seller, nine Spanish-speaking employees claimed that they were victims of sexual harassment. So, did the company take “reasonable care” to prevent sexual harassment?

“No evidence” policy was translated into Spanish

According to a Colorado federal court, maybe not:

The Handbook that contained the policy was in English, and there is no evidence that its provisions were translated into Spanish or that written translations were supplied to Spanish speaking employees…Second, there is a question as to whether the policy itself was sufficient – both on its face in English, and as to whether it provided a meaningful remedy for Spanish speaking employees…Due to the makeup of the workforce, assuming that a Spanish speaking employee had a complaint, she could not bring it directly to the persons identified in the policy because they did not speak Spanish.”

The court further noted that the primary bilingual person who customarily explained the policy and interpreted for Spanish speakers was the alleged harasser.

If you have a multilingual workplace, please make sure to have your anti-harassment policy translated into multiple languages. Also, make sure that non-English speaking employees know to whom they can report claims of unlawful harassment.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .