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Discipline / Investigations

Firing harasser is necessary, even if long-ago age comment could spark lawsuit


Terminations aren’t always clean. Sometimes they’re damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situations. That’s often so when you conclude that an employee harassed another and must be terminated. With nothing to lose, the fired employee may try to concoct a discrimination lawsuit.

Instant response to harassment complaint cuts liability risk


Here’s another reason to act fast when an employee says a co-worker has sexually harassed her: Employers that act quickly seldom lose sexual harassment lawsuits if their action stops the harassment.

Discipline a day after complaint? See you in court


Here’s a good reason to be careful about disciplining employees right after they complain about possible discrimination: A court may view the timing as so suspicious that it won’t  toss out the case early. Then it will be up to you to prove the complaint and discipline weren’t related.

Even the best sexual harassment policy is useless without supervisor vigilance


No sexual harassment policy will protect your company if what is going on in the cubicles or on the shop floor is blatantly offensive. It may not even matter that the offended or harassed employee didn’t follow your complaint policy and report the harassment to upper management. If she tried to talk to her immediate supervisor, that’s enough.

Make sure managers report sexual harassment


The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that managers who actually supervise the work of subordinates have a duty to report sexual harassment when they learn of it. If they don’t, their employer can still be held liable.

When dealing with sexual harassment, fix the problem once and for all


When an alleged sexual harasser is a supervisor, employers aren’t liable if there was no tangible employment action taken—the harassed employee wasn’t fired, demoted or otherwise punished—and the harassment was stopped promptly. But it doesn’t always work out so neatly in larger organizations.

OK to punish complainer if you find wrongdoing


Workplace investigations sometimes open a can of worms. What if, for example, you find out that an employee complaining about sexual harassment had engaged in wrongdoing, too? Even if the wrongdoing is related to the underlying sexual harassment complaint, you can and should punish the employee for that.

EEOC seeks broad subpoenas? Ask to have them limited


If the EEOC thinks a complaint it receives may have national implications and wants more information, it has the power to expand its investigation. The agency can seek subpoenas to demand a long list of records from your company as it seeks to develop a broader, perhaps national case against you. The good news is that federal courts generally will scale down the request if you ask.

Caution before offering ‘retire or be fired’


Here’s something to keep in mind when you are tempted to give an employee a choice between termination and early retirement: He may allege that the retirement option was really a constructive discharge.

Declining to cooperate with investigation isn’t protected


Before an employee can sue for retaliation, she has to show she participated in some form of protected activity—filing an EEOC or internal discrimination complaint, for example. But what about refusing to cooperate with an employer’s investigation?