In a highly publicized scandal at Penn State University last month, it was revealed that school officials learned about a football coach’s alleged abuse of a 10-year-old boy in the team’s locker room, yet decided to deal with the issue internally, not contact the police.
One HR lesson is obvious: Employers can never ignore reports of misconduct or harassment by employees against anyone—co-workers, clients or anyone on the premises.
“It is not a defense for you to bury your organizational head in the sand and hope that it will all be gone when you emerge into the sunlight,” says attorney Jon Hyman, a partner with Kohrman Jackson & Krantz in Cleveland.
But at what point does harassment cross the line into something more serious (like assault) that requires an employer to call the police? When should you—or must you—make that call?
“‘Should’ is a broader answer than ‘must,’” says Hyman. “When children are involved, as in the Penn State story, moral obligations far outweigh legal obligations. Employees should put themselves in the shoes of victim’s family.”
Hyman added, “The answer to when HR ‘must’ blow the whistle will be guided by state law and, in some specific instances like financial irregularities, by federal law.”