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Investigate, follow up on all harassment cases

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Employees who complain about sexual or other kinds of harassment shouldn’t be left to wonder whether their complaints are being investigated. Employers should apply sound investigation procedures and then follow up with the employee who came forward to let her know the result.

That’s true even if the company isn’t going to take any action and thinks the matter is too minor to justify discipline. HR should also stay on top of any possible retaliation by insisting on the right to nix any job changes unless they are clearly unrelated to the complaint.

Recent case: Jessica Houston Magyar worked as a part-time scheduler for a hospital while attending college. She began having trouble with a much older co-worker. She said he twice plopped himself down on her lap in the crowded cafeteria and whispered in her ear that she was pretty.

Magyar ignored this the first time, thinking it was a one-time occurrence. But when the co-worker repeated the performance, she went to her supervisor. At first, Magyar’s boss wouldn’t listen, but after Magyar revealed she was a sex-assault survivor, the boss agreed to investigate. But Magyar never heard anything else about the matter and assumed her complaint had been brushed off.

She then tried to avoid the co-worker as much as she could. She also took her complaint higher within the company, complaining she had been ignored. Then the hospital restructured Magyar’s job and terminated her.

She sued, alleging harassment and retaliation.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a trial. It said the co-worker’s conduct, since it involved direct touching, might very well be sexual harassment. Plus, the timing of the job restructuring looked suspicious. (Magyar v. Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, No. 07-2197, 7th Cir., 2008)

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