Most employers have a harassment policy (prohibiting sexual harassment and harassment based on membership in other protected classes, for example race or religion); generally contained in an employee handbook. Most of these policies provide a scheme for reporting any harassment and putting the company on notice. This has two functions- it allows management to step in and address the situation, potentially protecting you and punishing the harasser; and it protects the company from liability in many circumstances. It is important to look up your employer’s policy and follow it if you feel that you are being harassed- if you don’t tell the proper authority what is happening, they won’t be liable for it later. You could be barred from recovering under one of the statutes that prohibits harassment because your employer will claim that you did not comply with its policy and that it would have stepped in to stop the conduct if it had known that it was occurring.
A recent case from Alabama addresses some of these issues. In this case, Marshall v. Bravo Food Service, LLC d/b/a Little Cesars (WARNING- GRAPHIC CONTENT Read more here!), an assistant manager was sexually harassed by her female general manager. The company had a sexual harassment policy, which required employees to report sexual harassment to their “manager” or the president of the company. The plaintiff in this case did not report the behavior to her manager, as she was the harasser; but at least one other general manager was aware of the conduct. The employer moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the employee failed to put it on notice of the harassment per the policy and that therefore it was not liable for damages. The Court denied the motion to dismiss, holding that the policy was ambiguous and that it was not clear that the company was not on notice and was off the hook.
The moral of this story is that employees who believe that they have suffered harassment must take steps to follow their employers’ harassment policies and, if it’s not clear to whom they should report harassment, just keep moving up the ladder. Employers try to weasel out of liability for harassment and other employment related issues on the basis that no one ever told them and that the employee who suffered the harassment did not comply with the employer’s policies. Don’t let this happen to you- make your voive heard if you’re being harassed!