Employees who work closely with one another often clash. Sometimes an employee may feel uncomfortable with the close proximity and may even interpret another employee’s innocent behavior as sexual harassment.
While you must respond to every sexual harassment complaint and investigate, that doesn’t mean each incident warrants corrective action. Use common sense.
After all, employers have no obligation to provide a perfect workplace.
Recent case: Stephanie Harris worked for Harley-Davidson on the assembly line. She was part of a team of men and women who worked in close quarters.
Harris complained several times toabout a male co-worker she said stared at her and once removed a tool from her back pocket, brushing against her buttocks. The company investigated and, after interviewing other team members, determined no sexual harassment had occurred.
Harris sued, alleging a hostile work environment.
The court tossed out Harris’ case, reasoning that nothing she claimed had happened was even close to genuine harassment. For example, the tool incident occurred when the co-worker asked to borrow the tool and Harris told him he could. Apparently he removed the tool from her back pocket before she could do so herself. That simply wasn’t enough to support a lawsuit. (Harris v. Harley-Davidson Motor Company, No. 1:09-CV-1449, MD PA, 2011)
Final note: Always investigate harassment claims and document your investigation. It’s especially important to get witness statements. You never know who will sue or where witnesses will be when the case goes to court.