Some employees seem to think that any uncomfortable situation at work can become the basis for a lawsuit.
Fortunately, they are wrong. Co-workers don’t always get along, but that’s hardly grounds for a hostile work environment charge.
Recent case: Tracey had a casual friendship with a male co-worker. He began telling her about anonymous notes he and his neighbors had received, which accused the man of having an affair. Then the co-worker suddenly accused Tracey of sending the notes and the two got into an argument.
Tracey went home and refused to return to work. She explained to HR that she felt she was working in a hostile environment. Until the co-worker apologized, she declared, she would not come to work.
Then she filed an EEOC complaint alleging sexual harassment, citing the prior conversations that she now said were “sordid.”
Meanwhile, the company kept urging Tracey to come back and even suggested she takeuntil she felt better equipped to deal with her co-worker. She never filled out the .
The court dismissed Tracey’s EEOC case. It reasoned that the argument between Tracey and her co-worker didn’t have anything to do with her protected characteristics but was merely a workplace annoyance. Plus, nothing she described would have been enough to make a reasonable employee quit. (Cuozzo v. American Rock Salt Company, et al., No. 12-6215, WD NY, 2014)
- Take harassment seriously, even if complaint comes late
- Different pay for men and women? Prepare to explain 'other than sex' factors
- Keep records from unemployment comp case --you might need them later if employee sues
- Employee complained in the past? Keep that info from new supervisor
- Don't block transfer as reasonable accommodation