The best way to end hostile environment suits: Train bosses what to do when worker complains

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employees are more sensitive to potential sexual harassment than others. What some might disregard as innocent flirtation, others might consider an unwelcome come-on.

Courts often throw out harassment suits that start that way, but why tempt fate—or spend time and money defending yourself?

You have the power to nip such suits in the bud. Tell your managers and supervisors that if an employee even hints that someone has said something offensive to her sensitive ears, bosses have a responsibility to make the talk stop. If the supervisor is the cause of the complaint, it’s imperative to put an end to it.

Quick action has benefits even if the complaint does reach the courts, which have repeatedly ruled that isolated comments aren’t enough to create a sexually hostile work environment.

Acting fast to put a stop to the offending talk means you’ll probably win that lawsuit.

Recent case: Donna Theriault worked at a Dollar General store and confronted her supervisor after he made several comments that she perceived were sexually suggestive.

Several times, he apparently told her she had a nice derriere. On another occasion, Theriault overheard him having what she said was a sexually explicit phone conversation with his girlfriend. Finally, she said the supervisor told her that if he were no longer her supervisor, they could date.

After she told the supervisor that his comments were unwelcome, they stopped.

She sued, alleging that she had been forced to work in a sexually hostile environment.

But the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s dismissal of her lawsuit. It said that isolated comments that stop when an employee complains don’t amount to sexual harassment. (Theriault v. Dollar General, No. 08-2653, 3rd Cir., 2009)

Final note: You may want to consider a strict no-sex-talk policy. After all, the workplace is for work.

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