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Employers that act fast when an employee complains about any form of harassment can almost always salvage what would otherwise be a very bad situation. The key is prompt investigation—followed by equally fast and decisive action if it turns out the complaint has merit.
Here’s a problem that is easily solved. An employee complains that she’s being harassed by a co-worker. If you can easily separate the two, do so sooner rather than later. Merely having a complaint lodged may be enough to stop the harasser. But his continued presence can still mean you’re allowing a sexually hostile work environment to exist.
If you carefully document disciplinary actions and punish all employees fairly, courts will usually uphold your decisions. That’s because an employee who challenges the reason for her discharge has to show that the reason wasn’t legitimate—that, rather, the rationale was merely a pretext for some form of discrimination. And it takes more than just coincidence to do that.
Some employees refuse to accept their employer’s solution to their discrimination complaints. They demand more action. Sometimes those employees begin working against their supervisors, perhaps assuming that any disciplinary action would constitute retaliation. Do you have to cave to their demands?
Sure, everyone knows that employees who make a good-faith complaint alleging some form of discrimination are protected from retaliation. But that doesn’t mean that no one can criticize the employee for making the complaint in a way that’s out of line. If he or she is discourteous, you can and should put an end to the disruptive behavior.