An Unread Policy is No Policy

By Wes Pruett, HR Advisors LLC

hrWe have a sexual harassment policy and an employee handbook. That should protect me, right?
Well, not always.

In a recent case an employee quit her job alleging sexual harassment. She filed an harassment claim which her employer sought to have dismissed in court. She was able to show that there was sufficient evidence that illegal harassment may have actually occurred.

However, the employer challenged her claims and stated that they had a sexual harassment policy and that they had used reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct harassing behavior. (Policies and appropriate action can be an affirmative defense in such matters.) Unfortunately the company could not show that the employee had received and read the harassment policy and a federal court ruled that without proof, the harassment claim could move forward in the court system.

What’s the lesson learned? First, having a good harassment (and other employment) policies is critical but they will do you no good if the company can’t prove that the policies were distributed. Further, employers should take the step to have signed acknowledgements for the receipt of handbooks and policies. Better yet, have documentation that employees were trained on those important policies and that they understand them.

Failure to take these simple steps resulted in considerable but avoidable headaches and expense to the company.
HR Advisors LLC

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