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Separate the harassed and the harasser, fast

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Here’s a problem that is easily solved. An employee complains that she’s being harassed by a co-worker. If you can easily separate the two, do so sooner rather than later.

Merely having a complaint lodged may be enough to stop the harasser. But his continued presence can still mean you’re allowing a sexually hostile work environment to exist. That’s especially true if the alleged conduct was severe, placing the victim in a vulnerable position.

Recent case: Barbara Soleau worked as a temporary winter employee for the Illinois Department of Transportation. A male co-worker allegedly began sexually harassing her, frequently propositioning her for sex. Then his behavior apparently escalated, allegedly following her into the restrooms she was cleaning, unzipping his pants and trying to expose himself while she rushed to escape.

She finally complained to management, which started an investigation. But no one made any arrangements to separate the two.

The following year, Soleau again reported for her temporary assignment. At first, she was informed that her alleged harasser would be working in the same area. Later, he was transferred to another work area, and eventually he retired.

Soleau sued, alleging she had been forced to work in a sexually hostile environment.

In court, she acknowledged that the man had stopped harassing her as soon as she reported it. But that wasn’t enough to let the department off the hook.

The court said just because a person stops harassing doesn’t automatically mean the employer’s efforts to fix the situation were adequate. In cases where the harassment was extreme, letting the harasser remain nearby can in itself be the continuation of a sexually hostile environment. Soleau won her case. (Soleau v. Illinois Department of Transportation, No. 09-C-3582, ND IL, 2010)

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