When an employee has sexually harassed a co-worker, employers can avoid liability by acting fast to fix the situation as soon as they learn about it.
General rules: If an employee complains, investigate promptly. If the alleged harasser confesses, immediately take steps to end any further harassment.
Exactly what you should do depends on the severity of the harassment. You may want to fire the employee or try a lesser penalty such as suspension or demotion followed by training. If you have the ability to do so, you could transfer the harasser.
Regardless, your goal is to stop the harassment and keep it from recurring.
Recent case: Latia Jones worked as a private security guard at a federal building. She claimed a co-worker was harassing her, telling her he liked women her size and suggesting that the way she wore her pants was sexually provocative.
Jones filed a written complaint with the company, which investigated. The co-worker confessed and the company transferred him to another building.
No further harassment occurred, but Jones sued anyway.
She lost the harassment claim because her employer had acted promptly, effectively stopping the co-worker’s harassment. (Jones v. Superior Protection Services, No. H-07-1355, SD TX, 2009)
Final note: The employer did the right thing in this case by transferring the harasser and not Jones. Nothing will spur a retaliation lawsuit faster than anything that smacks of punishing the victim. Transferring her, for example, may look like retaliation because a longer commute or unpleasant working conditions could dissuade a reasonable person from complaining. Transfers may be perceived as particularly difficult for single parents, who might have to change child care or school arrangements.
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