Employers have an obligation to stop illegal harassment as quickly as possible. But don’t jump right on the first apparent solution—it may not be the best way to go.
If your proposed fix actually makes things worse for the victim—in terms of pay, perks or working conditions—you’ll raise your liability risks to the roof.
Recent case: Homer Howard worked for a vending machine company. He worked the second shift so he could care for his young son, who had medical problems.
Part of Howard’s job involved refilling the vending machines at a local hospital. But Howard complained to his supervisors that several employees at the hospital called him “gay,” made lewd gestures and talked about oral sex whenever he came to fill the machines.
His supervisor told Howard to ignore the problem. But the harassment escalated and Howard kept complaining.
Then the company offered him a take-it-or-leave-it proposition: transfer to the first shift. But that shift interfered with his child care duties and required.
When Howard refused, he was terminated. Then he sued.
The court sent the case to trial, saying the company badly mishandled the entire problem. First, it told Howard to ignore the harassment. Then, it offered a transfer to a shift that left Howard worse off than before he complained. (EEOC v. Cromer Food Services, No. 10-1476, 4th Cir., 2011)
- Warn bosses: E-mail is smoking-gun evidence
- Read EEOC complaint carefully: Employees can't later expand lawsuit
- When harassment case is on the line, be ready to prove you did everything you could to stop it
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