How High Are the Stakes?

The case discussion below is one of a regular series designed to illustrate the handling of everyday problems in human relations. It is base on actual court and arbitration rulings, although the names and dialogue are fictitious. Users may find these discussions helpful in supervisory training.

"Being branded a sexual harasser will ruin my life!" cried Jake Mills. "You better make good and sure you have all the facts straight before you fire me for something as serious as this."

"We've heard your side and we've heard hers," replied supervisor Arlene Diaz. "And a co-worker supported her story. That's all the facts we need."

Should the employee have been discharged?

A female employee at a manufacturing plant reported to her manager that a male coo-worker had sexually harassed and assaulted her two months earlier. The woman said the accused employee, whom she had dated some seven years earlier, pulled her into a storage room and kissed and fondled her. There were no witnesses to the incident, which she said lasted about one minute.

A co-worker saw the female employee directly after the alleged incident and later described her as visibly upset. The woman told her co-worker she had been harassed, but repeatedly denied circulating rumors in the weeks leading up to her report.

The male employee denied the accusations, but following a company investigation that centered exclusively on the statements of the three employees, he was terminated for violating the company's sexual harassment policy.

The woman later said she had failed to report the incident because she did not think anything would result from it, and she didn't want her husband or the accused employee's wife, both of whom worked at the plant. to hear of it. She said she was confused and embarrassed at the time.

The male employee argued that the company's investigation was insufficient to justify the firing. For example, other employees later said they witnessed a pleasant conversation between the two.

Pointers: Most employers do not need to provide clear and convincing evidence to support a decision to fire someone for sexual harassment. The court system typically allows employers to act upon reasonable conclusions, even if those conclusions are based on first-pearson accounts instead of hard facts. But employers will find it in their best interest to avoid costly, time-consuming litigation altogether.

In general, charges of workplace sexual harassment can be prevented if employers: