Workplace survival can require a thick skin. Some employees are just too sensitive to what co-workers say, assuming that every overheard comment is directed at them or meant to offend them in some way.
While you want to create an atmosphere of tolerance and harmony, don’t get too excited over isolated incidents.
The fact of the matter is that even a few incidents that border on harassment or religious intolerance aren’t enough to trigger a successful lawsuit.
Recent case: Ann DeSalvo sued her former employer after she quit, claiming she had been harassed by co-workers. She said one co-worker called her a “goody-two-shoes” and another said she was “the holy-holy.” Plus, someone sent a postcard of a woman wearing a bathing suit, which DeSalvo found offensive.
DeSalvo said the comments and the postcard were directed at her religious faith and that she had worked in a religiously hostile environment.
The court said it was clear DeSalvo was subjectively offended, but that no reasonable employee would be objectively so offended that he or she would feel compelled to quit. It dismissed her case. (DeSalvo v. SSA, et al., No. 07-4403, 2nd Cir., 2009)
Final note: What’s the best way to deal with an employee who is very sensitive? You could explain that not everyone holds the same beliefs. You could hold a meeting to discuss tolerance and tell all employees to treat others with respect. But ultimately, it simply may be impossible to please the sensitive employee. If that’s the case, just make sure you investigate all her claims and treat them as you would all complaints. That way, she can’t charge retaliation or later claim that her complaints were ignored, opening the door to the allegation that she had no choice but to quit.
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