Employers Should Reconsider Having Time Limits For Reporting Harassment Claims
Some companies put time limits on an employee's ability to raise concerns about harassment in the workplace.
This is not a good idea.
One example is an IHOP franchise group with restaurants in Nevada and New York that had a policy that required employees who were sexually harassed by another employee to report the incident in writing within 72 hours to the company's New York office, or else waive all rights to recovery against the company.
Some of the employees filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging they experienced sexual harassment at work including unwanted touching, vulgar name calling, and other sexually inappropriate behavior.
After an EEOC investigation and subsequent lawsuit, the company ultimately settled with the EEOC for $700,000 in February 2019.
In addition, the company agreed to eliminate the 72 hour reporting policy. The EEOC's position was that the policy:
deterred complaints by requiring that they be submitted in writing to the New York office;
prohibited the submission of complaints to managers at locations where the employees worked and where the harassment would have occurred;
prevented local management from taking preventive or corrective measures even if they received sexual harassment complaints; and therefore
created an atmosphere where employees and managers regularly and continuously engaged in sexual harassment.
The takeaway: If your policies contain a time frame for reporting or other requirements that make it harder for an employee to report harassment, you should think about updating them. It's fine to encourage employees to report alleged harassment early, but there should not be a penalty (such as a waiver of claims) for not doing do. This is especially true given the #MeToo era that we're in in 2019. You may also want to think about implementing a formalized complaint reporting procedure if you don't have one.
Seriously - don't you want to know about the complaints? Why make it hard for your employees to share them with you?