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Firing harassers is OK, even without formal company policy

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Machine operator Louvenia Hall complained that a co-worker repeatedly harassed her. When the company investigated, it found that Hall had returned the favor by harassing him, too. The company's solution: Fire 'em both.

Both fired workers shot back with lawsuits claiming sex discrimination and hostile environment. Each argued in part that the company didn't have a written policy against sexual harassment.

The court tossed out the case, saying that even though the company had no published policy, it had an "effective channel" for employees to report such incidents. Also, the company avoided liability by taking correct and swift action.

Most courts have focused on whether employers have a mechanism for detecting and correcting harassment, rather than interpreting Title VII to require that employers have a formal sexual harassment policy. In this case, the company met its obligations by taking reasonable steps to discover and rectify the harassment. (Hall v. Bodine Electric Co., 7th Cir., No. 00-4222, 2002)

Advice: Don't hesitate to fire workers for blatant harassment, even if you don't have a written policy. But if you have a policy, don't rip it up based on this case. Well-established policies and comprehensive training are vital tools in preventing harassment. This case simply acknowledges that, in court, your actions will speak much louder than your words.

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