Employee claims harassment but won’t identify alleged culprit: What would you do?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Occasionally, employees work up the nerve to complain about sexual harassment only to get cold feet about pressing their complaints or naming names.

What should you do if an employee complains, but then just asks for a transfer instead of identifying the alleged harasser? That’s the situation one employer recently faced.

Recent case: Several female employees at Caterpillar complained that the company failed to respond to their sexual harassment complaints. The EEOC took up their cause and filed a lawsuit.

One of those women, Virginia Early, had claimed a security guard had propositioned her. But she didn’t want to identify the person. She just wanted a transfer. Early got the transfer. Then she joined the EEOC lawsuit, alleging that the security guard had essentially threatened to rape her.

The court dismissed her claim. It reasoned that the company hadn’t known about the rape threat because Early hadn’t mentioned specifics. Plus, the company couldn’t conduct an investigation since she refused to point out the alleged harasser. The court also noted that the company gave Early what she asked for—a transfer. (EEOC v. Caterpillar, No. 03-C-5636, ND IL, 2009)

Advice: Always take contemporaneous notes whenever an employee reports harassment or discrimination. That way, you can prove what you knew and when you learned of it. If the employee refuses to name names, explain that this will prevent you from conducting an investigation. Highlight this discussion in your notes and have the employee sign off on the notes.

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