An Anonymous Sexual Harassment Hotline That Is Not Anonymous May Be Worse Than No Hotline

Interesting article in The New York Times about employer sexual harassment hotlines.  Seems that hotlines touted as being anonymous for employees to complain about sexual harassment may be anything but anonymous – or publicized to employees.

I have always advised employers that, from the top down, an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment tone and policy must be set, and all management personnel as well as line workers must be trained and educated in the basics of discrimination and harassment law and compliance and its application in the workplace.

Employers should not tolerate discrimination or harassment in any form, and must make it clear by words and deeds that employees have the right to complain about such acts and that their complaints will be heard, investigated and, if good cause is found, remediated promptly.

As to the “the right to complain about such acts” – an employer should designate an EEO officer, and guarantee anonymity to those who complain who desire to remain anonymous.  An “anonymous hotline” is a good idea — if it is indeed anonymous and is an adequate method to complain.

However, as the Times reports, “employment law experts say that a company’s hotline often exists in obscurity, and that even when it is well-known among employees, it can be a tool for suppressing harassment allegations rather than dealing with them. … many employers create hotlines merely to help insulate themselves from legal liability without ever following up on complaints.”

This is, of course, counterproductive, and a downright bad idea.

A good policy that is not followed is no policy at all – and it can be used against the employer by an employee who claims that the employer did not adhere to its own standards.

Caveat employer.


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]