Employers that act fast when an employee complains about any form of harassment can almost always salvage what would otherwise be a very bad situation.
The key is prompt investigation—followed by equally fast and decisive action if it turns out the complaint has merit. Courts will usually give an employer a pass in harassment cases if the employer can show it was serious about fixing the problem.
Note: All bets are off if the harasser is a supervisor who terminated, demoted or otherwise harmed the victim.
Recent case: Majed Subh worked as a technician in the photo department at a Walmart store.
He complained tothat he was being yelled at and harassed by a co-worker and customers because of his race.
The retailer launched an investigation and promptly fired the co-worker when it concluded that harassment had occurred. Subh sued anyway.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his case, however, concluding that Walmart had met its obligations by investigating and terminating the individual who had been the source of harassment. (Subh v. Wal-Mart, No. 09-4189, 3rd Cir., 2010)
Final note: Has it been awhile since you dusted off your harassment policy? Now is a good time to review it and retrain managers. Plus, remind employees how to complain. You may want to include a brief explanation of the policy in the next pay envelope, in the employee newsletter or as a posting on the employee bulletin board.