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When an employee makes a complaint alleging sexual harassment, whether the perpetrator was a co-worker, manager, or supervisor, every company should do one thing: Don't ignore the complaint. Taking prompt remedial action can actually preclude liability.
Restaurant Partners Inc., the folks who own and operate several "Coney" restaurants/diners, best known for their dogs and smothering everything with chili-cheese and ranch, were recently served with a lawsuit stemming from the company allegedly ignoring three waitresses' complaints of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. The details of the alleged misconduct are rather disturbing, and it really begs the question of how a company could fail to act after hearing about it.
According to the complaint, one of the managers at a Coney restaurant in Michigan would give unsolicited, unwanted back rubs, would shove his hands in waitresses' aprons and between legs, and even tucked in a shirt into the back of a waitress's pants. Additionally, making matters even grosser, the same manager would require employees to grab his keys/access card which would be attached to his body near his crotch, rather than simply handing the keys to employees.
Perhaps one of the more shocking and curious facts of this case is that several other managers witnessed this behavior and failed to take any corrective action. Furthermore, when one of the waitresses complained to upper management, nothing was done to remedy the alleged misconduct. Before the matter was escalated, had other managers, or even other employees, been provided with bystander intervention training, this situation may have never reached the lawsuit stage.
Don't Hesitate to Investigate
While companies may like to pretend to be Axel Foley ignoring Jeffrey in response to any complaint, ignoring sexual harassment complaints is just not smart business. Whether or not a complaint is substantiated, whenever one is received, it's probably a good idea to review employee training and compliance, minimally for the involved parties. It's also imperative that every complaint get investigated, and investigations should include more than simply outing the "complainer" (aka the victim) to the perpetrator.
Additionally, whenever anyone is interviewed as part of the investigation, having the company's anti-retaliation policy printed out for the subject to review could be helpful in encouraging employee candor.