DEAR ABBY: A female reader, "Humiliated in Birmingham," wrote that a vendor had come to her place of employment and made lewd comments to her. After learning that the vendor would be training her on software she'd be using for her recent promotion, she reported the incident to her superior. Four days later, she was demoted, publicly humiliated, and felt forced to resign.
I am a former human resources manager, Abby, and that woman should know that she was the victim of hostile environment harassment and subjected to retaliation by her employer for reporting it. Most harassment policies prohibit third-party harassment and retaliation.
"Humiliated" should create a timeline of the events that occurred, and then consult a lawyer or visit her state human rights office. The documentation should include when the harassment occurred, where it occurred, and specifically what lewd comments were made by the vendor. It would also be helpful to note what she did when it occurred, such as telling the vendor that it made her uncomfortable or whether she walked away.
She may also want to locate a copy of the company's harassment policy and any relevant information regarding the promotion and demotion, including if anything was in writing. It should also be noted if anyone witnessed the harassment or the public humiliation.
After documenting her story, this agency will likely file a complaint on her behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and will contact her employer to obtain their story about what happened. Since it's doubtful an investigation by the company was completed, and "Humiliated" was retaliated against, the agency will look unfavorably upon this. "Humiliated" may also want to consider what resolution she is looking for, such as being restored to the promoted position and being trained by a different individual. -- SYMPATHETIC IN LEAWOOD, KAN.
DEAR SYMPATHETIC: Thank you for your helpful letter. It's one that should be clipped and saved by anyone entering the workforce and anyone who owns a business. Most businesses have sexual harassment policies in writing, but not all do. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Fifty lashes with a wet noodle for specifically recommending a female lawyer to "Humiliated in Birmingham." You dropped the ball. Any decent attorney, male or female, should be empathetic and hard-working in pursuing the case. Unless the person hiring the attorney is uncomfortable with a particular gender, the gender of the attorney should not be a criterion. -- DENNIS HUGHES, PLAINFIELD, IND.
DEAR DENNIS: You're right; I was wrong. I apologize for suggesting that a female lawyer might identify more strongly with her situation than a male lawyer. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I, too, was harassed by a vendor at work. The receptionist -- a man -- witnessed it. He empowered me, and I called the vendor's boss and told him what had happened. It turned out there had been other complaints about the man. -- CAMMIE IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR CAMMIE: Thank you for pointing out that when harassment occurs, it's often part of a pattern of behavior.