When you find out that an employee has been doing things that make the work environment sexually hostile, you must fix the problem right away. The sooner you do, the less likely that an employee will successfully sue.
That’s because employees have just 300 days to file EEOC charges. That clock starts ticking as soon as you start acting to clean up the environment.
Recent case: Cathy Burkhart complained to HR that a male supervisor was creating a sexually hostile environment. She said she received e-mails that demeaned women, saw pornographic images on his computer screen and accidentally opened a set of computer files she thought were work-related but instead contained sexually explicit material.
HR investigated and confirmed much of Burkhart’s story. It suspended the supervisor and took away his Internet access while recommending he get therapy for pornographic addiction. The behavior stopped.
Burkhart sued after she was fired for, claiming she had been forced to work in a sexually hostile environment.
But she had waited too long to file her EEOC complaint after the company cleaned up the work environment. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case. (Burkhart v. American Railcar Industries, No. 09-2077, 8th Cir., 2010)
Final notes: Don’t wait for a complaint to see what’s going on. Schedule surprise visits to look for telltale signs of problems—things like demeaning posters or jokes on bulletin boards.
Make sure your Internet and e-mail policies prohibit accessing or sending offensive material.
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