If you have a robust anti-harassment policy and act fast to stop co-worker sexual harassment, you usually won’t be liable for that harassment.
But that doesn’t mean you must automatically fire everyone who harasses a co-worker. You can use a more measured approach, including warnings and counseling. If that doesn’t work, then it may be time to terminate the perpetrator.
Recent case: Janice Blackmon worked for Walmart and began complaining to that one of her co-workers was making sexual comments to her. Some of the come-ons: “Babe, I’m going to get what I want,” and “You know I want to screw you, don’t you?” Management told the co-worker to stop and issued him a reprimand.
Then the man allegedly grabbed Blackmon’s breasts while she was working at the cash register. Security cameras caught the incident on tape. Walmart fired him.
Blackmon sued, alleging that Walmart hadn’t done enough to stop the harassment.
The court disagreed. It said the retailer’s approach was appropriate, given the nature of each incident. Walmart had a sexual harassment policy that it followed, and it fired the co-worker when it became clear his behavior had gotten worse, not better, after he was reprimanded. (Blackmon v. Wal-Mart Stores, No. 09-11953, 11th Cir., 2009)
Final notes: If the alleged harasser is a supervisor, the rules of the game change. Supervisor harassment accompanied by an adverse employment action (such as being fired, demoted or otherwise punished by the supervisor) means automatic employer liability.
However, you can lessen the impact by taking fast action. This is no occasion for a wait-and-see attitude. If you substantiate a complaint of supervisor harassment, you must immediately terminate or otherwise remove the supervisor.
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