If you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to remind everyone in HR to avoid playing down or dismissing the impact of supervisor harassment on employees.
It may be tempting to tell a complaining employee that she’s making a mountain out of a molehill. But understand that telling an employee she should get over it and return to work may prompt her to quit—and then sue you.
She’ll probably say she was constructively discharged—that is, she had no choice but to quit because of how the HR office reacted to her complaint.
Recent case: Clara Whitten was transferred to a new store within the Fred’s Discount retail chain. She worked there just two days before quitting.
She claimed her new manager called her dumb and stupid and told her he didn’t want her in his store. Then, she alleged, he pressed his groin against her. He also told her to “be good” to him and not to complain up the chain of command. If she did, he allegedly said, he would make her life “a living hell.” The next day, he again pressed himself against her.
Whitten complained to the district office. She was told she was “overreacting” and that she should go to work and pretend nothing had happened.
She instead quit and sued. The court said she could claim she had no choice but to quit based on the response to her complaint. (Whitten v. Fred’s, No. 09-1265, 4th Cir., 2010)
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Out of sight shouldn't be out of mind: Monitor remote facilities for signs of harassment
- Hold onto those notes! Even accidental destruction can mean trouble
- Justify every firing with real business reasons
- Nail down documentation before firing harassment complainant