Employers shouldn’t worry too much about firing an employee they believe sexually harassed another employee. As long as you conduct an investigation and reasonably believe the employee broke company rules against harassment, a court likely won’t second-guess your judgment. You don’t have to be absolutely right… just honest.
Recent case: After a training session for county jail employees, one of the participants claimed that the trainer, David, had made sexually inappropriate comments to her. The woman alleged that David had regaled her with tales of a previous incident in which he allegedly got drunk and had sex with two women. The employee believed that David was suggesting that she, too, should engage in sexual activities with him. David was fired after the county concluded the employee was telling the truth.
He sued, alleging he hadn’t sexually harassed her.
But the court said what mattered wasn’t so much what actually happened, but what the employer believed had happened based on the county’s investigation. It was free to believe the employee and not David. The case was dismissed. (Finley v. Florida Parish Juvenile Detention Center, No. 13-31030, 5th Cir., 2014)
Final note: Courts really don’t want have to act as an employer’s HR department. Judges don’t like second-guessing business decisions.
They certainly don’t expect employers to conduct investigations that resemble full-blown trials, either. As long as you document your decision-making process and show you were fair and reasonable, chances are your decisions won’t be questioned.