When an employee tells a supervisor that she’s being sexually harassed, that’s a signal that action is required. Her complaint should immediately set into motion an investigation. Make sure your supervisors have strict instructions to contact HR right away.
Then immediately contact the employee for details and make arrangements to prevent further contact between the parties until you have concluded your investigation. Any undue delay may add fuel to a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Recent case: Sheila worked at a prison as a correctional officer, stationed in a guard tower. One of her duties was to flash her light when she saw her supervisor flash his light in her direction. Doing so assured everyone that an alert guard was manning the tower.
One night, Sheila didn’t respond to a flash, a failure that had disciplinary consequences. She explained she hadn’t responded because she was on the phone with another officer. He denied it and Sheila faced suspension.
She then explained that the other officer was sexually harassing her, that she rejected his advances and that he must have been trying to get back at her by denying they were on the phone discussing work when she missed the flash. She put her complaint in writing, slipping a report under her supervisor’s door. But no one investigated her claims for several months. Eventually, Sheila and the other officer were separated.
Sheila eventually quit anyway, and decided to sue.
The judge said her hostile work environment claim could proceed based on her employer’s lack of a prompt investigation. (King v. NC Department of Public Safety, No. 5:12-CV-152, ED NC, 2014)
Final note: It’s better late than never if you find a complaint hasn’t been acted on. Stop the harassment ASAP to cut your liability from that point forward.
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