- Piggly Wiggly has agreed to pay $50,000 to settle charges that two female employees were subjected to sexual harassment and intimidation at one of its Georgia grocery stores.
- A male employee made lewd comments and sexual advances toward two female store employees at a now-closed location, according to the EEOC. The women complained to the store manager about the treatment, but the store manager allegedly laughed at them and ignored their complaints. One of the women had her hours cut. After filing a written complaint and asking for a meeting with the president of the company, both women were fired.
- In addition to the monetary settlement, the company agreed to provide training on sexual harassment and retaliation to all employees at its remaining Georgia store and corporate office, redistribute an anti-harassment policy, and post notices required under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 explaining employee rights.
There are several best practices that guide how managers could appropriately respond to complaints, according to experts. First, the process should be standardized. An inconsistent process makes it harder for HR to do its due diligence and could lead to information slipping through the cracks.
Second, HR should listen actively. Note-taking can be a way to ensure accuracy and show employees that HR takes their claims seriously. Suggestions from practitioners at a conference earlier this year included repeating portions of their account to the employee for accuracy. Another recommended sending the official notes to the employee electronically to review and, if necessary, to add more comments.
Third, HR must eventually end the investigation. Letting an investigation linger indefinitely damages trust between HR and the employee, as do vague generalizations about the progress of the investigation.
Because the term "investigation" can present negative connotations, on expert previously suggested calling it a "resolution process" to remind employees that their claims will be heard and resolved.
Employers looking to refine their complaint-handling process might want to look at what other companies are doing. Google recently took steps to deal with backlash over alleged retaliation against employees who attempted to organize workers by creating internal websites for employee, temporary worker and vendor complaints and launching an Investigations Care Program to provide workers with better care during and after an investigation. It also created an Investigations Practice Guide.
To avoid issues, employers may also need to train managers on the laws covering sexual harassment on the federal, state and local levels; discrimination; and retaliation to avoid unlawful conduct and the risk of liability.