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Take proactive steps to ensure harassment doesn’t escalate

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Be sure to take it seriously when employees come forward with sexual harassment complaints. Ignoring their complaints could embolden the harassers.

To prevent such an unnecessary escalation, make sure you visit the work site and talk to everyone. Check for telltale signs of harassment, such as offensive posters or jokes on bulletin boards.

Then regularly follow up with the employee who complained. That way, you’ll know whether the problem has resolved itself or whether you need to take more forceful action, up to and including terminating the harassers.

Recent case: Gidget Mock worked for the Northampton County Sheriff’s Department in the DUI section. She claimed co-workers sexually harassed her throughout her employment. But things got out of hand when her parents’ house was foreclosed on, and the Sheriff’s Department seized some of Mock’s possessions as part of the foreclosure process. Among the items seized were her undergarments, including teddies and thong underwear, as well as several provocative photographs of Mock.

One co-worker pulled her aside at work and whispered that he had tried on a pair of her panties. Another continually asked her if she was wearing thong underwear or padded bras. Then, when she was allowed to retrieve her possessions, she found a nightstick and a sex toy among her belongings—presumably placed there by co-workers.

Mock sued, alleging a sexually hostile environment. The Sheriff’s Department argued that the incidents preceding the foreclosure shouldn’t be part of the case since Mock hadn’t filed her EEOC complaint within 300 days.

But the court said Mock had demonstrated a continuing pattern of offensive workplace behavior and could use every incident to show the escalation. (Mock v. Northampton County Sheriff’s Department, No. 07-3607, ED PA, 2008)

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