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February 27, 2012

Does an Anti-Harassment Policy Really Make a Difference?

As organizations, we spend a lot of time writing policy manuals and employee handbooks. These generally cover the gamut from the company mission statement to termination procedures. Also generally included (and should be) is an anti-harassment policy prohibiting all types of harassment in the workplace.

Sometimes we wonder if our policies really do their job in outlining correct procedures and protecting the company if a claim is filed. In the case of Crawford v. BNSF Railway Company, 8th Cir., No. 11-1953 (Jan. 11, 2012), the policy did its job as the proper procedures were carried out as prescribed.

To sum up the case, 5 mid-level supervisors at BNSF were subjected to frequent sexual and racial harassment in early 2008. Although they were aware and had been trained on BNSF’s “zero tolerance” policy on workplace harassment, they failed to report anything until filing discrimination charges with the EEOC in October 2008, months after the alleged harassment had begun.

Within two days of BNSF receiving the complaint, they placed the alleged harasser on leave. Upon completion of their investigation, the employee accused of harassment was terminated.

The employees stated BNSF was aware of the harassment, even without them reporting it or filing complaints, and did nothing about it. The court stated because BNSF had a published policy that provided a procedure for reporting suspected harassment, the supervisors had to invoke the procedure in order to have “actual notice.”

Policies are a form of insurance for an organization and not only do they need to be written effectively, they should also be distributed to employees, easily accessible, and appropriate training be provided. This is true in the case of BNSF. To read more about this case, please click here.

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