The recent high profile sexual harassment charges have been a watershed moment in United States history, exposing an all too common problem at American work places. It also raises a question about what employers should do when they learn of complaints against supervisors and/or co-workers acting inappropriately.
When an employee complains about sexual harassment, failing to address allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace can have expensive legal consequences for employers. While termination is not necessarily required in each case - management must take steps to address the problem. This includes whether management receives a written or verbal complaint about harassment, or even if an employer simply hears rumors that sexual harassment is occurring. Once management is aware of potential sexual harassment, they must investigate the situation and takes steps to end the conduct.
The investigation may include talking to other employees, discussing the allegations with the perpetrator, or in some cases, hiring an outside investigator to review the conduct. If harassment is found to exist, the end result may not necessarily mean termination. However, corrective action must be taken. This may be training or a suspension - something short of firing. Some women may fear coming forward where a zero-tolerance policy exists - they may want the harassing behavior to end but not cause the perpetrator to lose his or her position. In certain situations, education and warning may be enough. However, it’s important that the person who complains about harassment not face retaliation themselves. If they do, a retaliation claim may exist even if the underlying claim is not proven.
Most companies have an employee handbook that outlines the steps to take should you believe that you have been subjected to sexual harassment.
For more information or if you have been subjected to workplace discrimination, please contact the experienced Atlanta sexual harassment and discrimination lawyers at Buckley Beal LLP for an immediate case evaluation.