$$$ reasons to have a second-language anti-harassment policy

October 4, 2012
By Eric B. Meyer on October 4, 2012 7:00 AM | | Comments

Bilingual signsWhen an employer is faced with a sexual-harassment lawsuit, one of its best defenses is that the company took reasonable care (e.g., policy, training) to prevent sexual harassment (and then addressed complaints in a manner that is reasonably designed to end the sexual harassment)

In EEOC v. Spud Seller (opinion here), the employer had an anti-harassment policy that detailed what constitutes sexual harassment and how to report it. Further, it specifically advised employees that, "You can feel state that your complaint will receive immediate attention and if the facts support your complaint, the offender will be disciplined."

Sounds good to me.

Except...the policy was printed only in English. And in Spud Seller, nine Spanish-speaking employees claimed that they were victims of sexual harassment. So, did the company take "reasonable care" to prevent sexual harassment? According to a Colorado federal court, maybe not...

The Handbook that contained the policy was in English, and there is no evidence that its provisions were translated into Spanish or that written translations were supplied to Spanish speaking employees...Second, there is a question as to whether the policy itself was sufficient - both on its face in English, and as to whether it provided a meaningful remedy for Spanish speaking employees...Due to the makeup of the workforce, assuming that a Spanish speaking employee had a complaint, she could not bring it directly to the persons identified in the policy because they did not speak Spanish.

The court further noted that the primary bilingual person who customarily explained the policy and interpreted for Spanish speakers was the alleged harasser.

If you have a multilingual workplace, please make sure to have your anti-harassment policy translated into multiple languages. Also, make sure that non-English speaking employees know to whom they can report claims of unlawful harassment.