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Police called in response to workplace harassment? You must still act to stop future incidents

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If a co-worker, supervisor or cus­­tomer sexually assaults an em­ployee and the police are called in, the employer must still take reasonable steps to stop the harassment and prevent another assault.

It’s not enough to rely on the police to take care of the problem.

Recent case: Annmarie worked for a home construction company. The business had recently been purchased and the former owner still regularly dropped by.

Annmarie warned the new owners that the former owner had exposed his buttocks to her and was a sexual harasser.

Then the former owner allegedly grabbed another employee, put his hands down her pants and squeezed her buttocks. The employee and Annmarie called the police, who took a report.

They then told their new supervisor what happened. Neither he nor the company did anything to stop the former owner from returning.

Instead, the supervisor would later tell the court, he assumed the police were better equipped to handle the problem than he was. Plus, he said he wasn’t sure he believed the ­women’s story because he assumed the former owner would only “bother” someone “a little more attractive.”

Annmarie sued after experiencing what she perceived as retaliation and more sexual harassment. That in­­cluded co-workers warning her that she had better watch out, or the same thing that happened to her co-worker might happen to her.

The company argued it wasn’t re­­sponsible for anything that happened later because it reasonably assumed the police were in a better position to handle harassment. It admitted that it never investigated the squeezing incident, nor did it try to stop the former owner from returning or discourage other employees from harassing anyone.

The court said Annmarie’s case will go to trial. (Gentile v. DES, et al., No. 3:08-CV-2330, MD PA, 2012)

Advice: Remember, you’re responsible for protecting employees from all work-related harassment, even if the harassment comes from an outsider like a customer or someone like a former owner. You must take action. Consider banning the alleged harasser from the premises.

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