Employee making threats? Know how to legally handle explosive situation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employees are simply difficult to manage. They start arguments and may see harassment or discrimination at every turn.

Sometimes they cross a line, implying they could get violent.

How you handle their complaints can spell the difference between winning and losing a lawsuit.

Recent case: Rhonda Theus worked for GlaxoSmithKline. She also ran an on­­­­line business that published nude photos and engaged in live video broadcasts.

When her co-workers found out about her website, Theus claimed they began sexually harassing her. She said two female co-workers called her “bitch” and “whore,” and others followed her home. Theus said this made her angry with her co-workers.

HR investigated and interviewed many co-workers. They uniformly said Theus was the one doing the name-calling—and that she also sometimes intentionally bumped into co-workers. The investigation was closed.

Theus then took medical leave. When she returned, the disruption started up again. HR launched another investigation and concluded that Theus was the problem.

She was fired after co-workers re­­­ported hearing her spew vulgarities and threaten to get a pistol from her car.

Theus sued, alleging that she had been harassed and retaliated against for reporting harassment. She also claimed her supervisor regularly propositioned her and offered promotions for “special favors.”

The court noted that these were new allegations that Theus never mentioned when she originally reported the harass­­ment. Because she hadn’t, she couldn’t bring them up now. Plus, the court said her discharge was not retaliation for earlier complaints, but a reasonable re­sponse to threatened murder at work. (Theus v. GSK, No. 10-5649, 6th Cir., 2011)

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