Here’s another good reason to insist that HR handle all
Here’s why: Employees who claim their supervisors harassed them or created a hostile work environment don’t have to prove the company knew or should have known about the problems. In such cases, the employer is almost always automatically liable because the harassment originated with a supervisor rather than a co-worker.
But much depends on the definition of “supervisor.” According to a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, a supervisor isn’t someone who just oversees an employee’s job. He or she must be someone who has the power to hire, fire, promote or discipline that employee.
When HR conducts a pre-termination investigation and ultimately makes the decision to fire the employee, HR effectively serves as the supervisor for liability purposes, not the supervisor who directed the employee’s actual work.
Recent case: Sanjay Andonissamy, a French citizen of Indian descent, was fired from his job after his supervisor complained to HR that he was frequently disruptive, argumentative, insubordinate and did poor work. HR investigated and decided to fire Andonissamy.
He sued, alleging his supervisor had subjected him to a hostile environment, frequently calling him names based on his Indian descent.
But the court tossed out the case because it was HR—not the supervisor—that made the termination decision after an independent investigation. Even if Andonissamy’s allegations had been true, the company wasn’t automatically liable because the harassment would fall into the co-worker category. (Andonissamy v. Hewlett-Packard, No. 07-2387, 7th Cir., 2008)
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