Stop hostile environment cases by tracking how you discipline after workplace disputes

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in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

As an employer, you aren’t required to absolutely ensure your employees never suffer hurt feelings. That’s impossible.

Nevertheless, you are required to stop behavior that could escalate into a hostile environment. Be sure to track how you punish co-workers who get into arguments and use inappropriate language. That will show a court you don’t tolerate harassment.

Recent case: Anastasia Maxwell, who is black, sued her employer when she was fired for poor performance. She claimed that for years, she had to work in a hostile environment.

But with each example she gave the court, her former employer showed it had punished the co-worker and stopped the problem. For example, when Maxwell got into an argument that ended with a co-worker calling her a “bitch,” the co-worker was disciplined, and the supervisor made sure Maxwell never had to work with the name-caller again.

The court tossed out Maxwell’s case, reasoning that the work environment hadn’t been hostile, and that the employer had always tried to fix any problems that did come up before they became unmanageable. (Maxwell v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 07-05598, ND CA, 2009)

Final note: This case shows how important it is to keep documentation for a long time. You simply don’t know whether or when a fired employee will sue. Lawsuits are on the rise, and people without jobs have little to lose and everything to gain by suing their former employers. 

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