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Don’t tell harassed worker to ‘move on’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A new employee says her co-worker has sexually harassed her. You investigate and discover she’s telling the truth. You discipline the co-worker, showing you won’t tolerate such unprofessional behavior.

Is that the end of the matter? Not if the new employee won’t stop talking about what happened and it’s beginning to interfere with her ability to get her job done.

Discipline her if you must, but don’t tell her she should “move on.”

Recent case: Almost immediately after Iris started working as a campus police officer, she complained that a co-worker was sexually harassing her. She said he spied on her while getting dressed for her shift, made lewd comments and kissed and groped her.

The employer investigated, concluded the harassment had occurred and then transferred the co-worker, made him undergo harassment training and warned him that any further harassment would mean termination.

A few months later, supervisors decided Iris was a bad fit. She often refused to come in early or stay late when needed. Plus, according to a supervisor, Iris blamed “everything that ever happened ... on the sexual harassment complaint.” She “couldn’t move on” or “get past” the harassment and seemed preoccupied with it. She was fired.

Iris sued, alleging retaliation. She pointed to the comments on her alleged preoccupation with the harassment as evidence management held the complaint against her. The court agreed her case should go to trial. (Foster v. University of Maryland, et al., No. 14-1073, 4th Cir., 2015)

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