Here’s the Completely Wrong Way to Respond to Harassment Complaints

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May 8, 2015

Editor’s Note: Weekly Wrap has been pre-empted by spring conference travel season. It will return soon. 

By Eric B. Meyer

Folks, let me give you little free Friday HR pro tip:

If a female employee complains to a female manager that another male manager is sexually harassing her, it’s not OK for the female manager to respond thusly,

He’s a guy and you work with guys. Ignore it and smile.”

“Ignore it and smile”

That’s bad, but check out the full quote from the female manager from this recent federal court decision (McCourt v. Gatski Commercial Real Estate Services):

I know that you think he is making sexual comments towards you but I disagree. Because he referenced your panties and what they smell like is just weird and not offensive. Because he says you’re f*ckable is not really offensive either. “He’s a guy and you work with guys. Ignore it and smile.”

But wait! There’s more! Allegedly, when the plaintiff later complained again to the same female manager after being on the receiving end of more sexual harassment, the manager fired back with this doozy:

Your position is easily replaced. [The harasser] makes the company money! Don’t you need insurance for your son? Think about it!”

Based on these allegations, the court allowed the victim to pursue both a sexual harassment claim and a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Employer takeaways

So, here’s a friendly reminder: If it’s been a while since you’ve conducted respect-in-the-workplace training for your managers, now might be a good time to consider it.

Maybe start with, “Ignore it and smile” as an example of what never to say to a person who complains about discrimination in the workplace.

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

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