A recent court case offers a very important reminder to all employers: Failing to handle workplace bullying and harassment claims can have a disastrous impact on businesses.
Here’s the back story in this case: Susann Bashir had worked for 10 years as a fiber optics network builder for AT&T without any problems. However, when she converted to Islam, Bashir said she was subjected to daily harassment from co-workers. This included being called a terrorist and being asked directly if she was going to blow up the building.
In response, Bashir called the employee help line and requested sensitivity training for her co-workers. When no action was taken, she went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) with her complaints.
The EEOC began investigating Bashir’s complaints and, during that investigation, her direct manager grabbed her scarf off of her head. Following this incident, Bashir asked that either: she be transferred or her manager removed. When neither of those things happened, Bashir said she was so stressed out she couldn’t go back to work. The company responded by terminating her.
The end result of the EEOC’s investigation: A jury ruled that AT&T created a “hostile work environment,” for Bashir and awarded her a record-setting $5.12 million.
It’s worth noting that while workplace bullying isn’t automatically illegal, it can trigger other employment laws, and there are a number of court cases where companies have been found liable of not doing enough to protect employees who complained of being bullied at work.