Here’s a reminder that you should not ignore complaints about workplace harassment—or promise to take action but then fail to follow through. Not only may this mean a discrimination or harassment lawsuit, but the employee could quit and qualify for unemployment compensation, too.
And if an employee is getting paid while pursuing a lawsuit against you, there’s little incentive for him to back down from litigation.
Generally, former employees may be eligible for unemployment benefits if they quit “because of a good reason caused by the employer.” That good reason must also be adverse to the employee and must be something that would “compel an average, reasonable worker to quit.” In addition, the employee has to give the employer a chance to correct the problem. If you ignore harassment complaints, the employee could quit and collect benefits.
Recent case: Benson, who worked as a retail clerk cashier, claimed that he complained several times about racial slurs in the workplace and other forms of harassment. He claimed that his supervisor yelled at him and that the company ignored all his complaints.
Eventually, he went to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to complain and requested their mediation services. The employer never showed despite several scheduled sessions. That’s when Benson quit and applied for unemployment compensation, which the employer contested.
The court said Benson was eligible, since a reasonable employee would quit under similar circumstances. (Giva v. Wal-Mart, No. A-14-0050, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2014)
Final note: Don’t leave employees hanging. If, after investigating, you don’t think the employee had a good reason to complain, then say so. Explain that you are closing the file, but do invite the employee to report any retaliation or additional harassment. Then follow up with the employee in a few months to see if he or she still has concerns.