Sometimes, managers and supervisors just want their employees to get along and get their work done. When they hear someone complaining about sexual or other harassment, they may be tempted to blow it off as a distraction and just ignore it or tell the co-workers involved to stop it.
That’s not good enough.
To prevent a successful employee lawsuit, you must impress on first-line supervisors and managers that it’s their responsibility to report any sexual harassment complaint to HR. Make that an essential requirement of their jobs, and include compliance in their evaluation criteria.
Recent case: Candy Pellegrini worked at the front desk at a Best Western Hotel in Albany. When she was hired, she told her employer she needed a flexible schedule because her mother was ill and she had young children. She wound up missing work on a regular basis.
Pellegrini began complaining about a new co-worker’s sexually aggressive behavior shortly after he began working during her shift. She told supervisors that he made lewd comments about her breasts and body and grabbed her. He also allegedly called her frequently, soliciting sexual favors and complained when she spoke with her boyfriend. She also said she was forcibly kissed several times.
Each time she complained, her supervisor spoke with the co-worker. Each time, the man denied doing anything wrong.
Finally, a manager asked Pellegrini to provide a written statement of her allegations, which she did. Shortly after, the hotel fired Pellegrini, allegedly for. That’s when Pellegrini sued.
The hotel argued that even if what Pellegrini claimed was true, the conduct wasn’t severe enough to constitute sexual harassment.
The court disagreed, noting that the hotel hadn’t done anything substantial to actually investigate the problem. Merely accepting a co-worker’s denial that he didn’t do anything wrong isn’t enough. At a minimum, the hotel should have conducted an independent investigation. (Pellegrini v. Sovereign Hotels, et al., No. 1:08-CV-1012, ND NY, 2010)
- OK to place employee on paid leave pending investigation
- No second opinion? You can challenge FMLA leave later
- Whistle-blowers protected even if they defy complaint process
- Consider reassignment to open positions as accommodation
- Where legal trouble lurks: Even unwritten rules must be enforced fairly and consistently