Dealing with Sexual Harassment Allegation

I had a relatively new employee quit today by e-mail with a generic explanation that she was no longer comfortable working for us. When my wife and I solicited more information from her by e-mail, she revealed that our new GM had harassed her to go out with him by text and phone on her days off. I had a coincidental but independent verification of this from a 3rd party.

I have put in an e-mail to the employee to gain more information. My GM is still in his 30 day probationary period.

For those that may have dealt with this before, my thought was to try to gather as much information as possible before it fades away. I do believe this employee, but I don’t want to presume his guilt. How much of an opportunity to I give him to explain his side of the story?

Are his personal texts to her my business? Can I demand to see them (it’s not a company phone). I’ve already went through his company e-mails but didn’t find anything of consequence. Do I suspend him while I investigate? Extend his probation? What if I’m convinced he did act inappropriately? Is firing the best course? Should I just let him go while he’s in the probationary period anyway?

I was a lawyer in my previous life, and I understand some aspects of Sexual harassment law, but I’ve never been involved in anything like this until now.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

I would say if you are in the 30 day probation period… I would say it is not working and go your ways. Although, I would be concerned about what the girl might do. You almost have to investigate before letting him go… and I think you terminate no matter what you find. You say you have confirmed from a 3rd party also. I would also plan future hires in mgmt positions have strick no dating rules in place in writing and also two things… time to review the employee handbook for all and extend the probation period out too 90 days. Give you more time to get too know the people you hire.

  1. You do not have a formal complaint issued by an employee at this time. It’s splitting hairs, but you don’t . 2) There will be no substitute whatsoever for finding a LABOR ATTORNEY and paying for an hour of his time to consult on this matter. It will be the best 1 to 2 hundred bucks you spend this month.

We can commiserate and even offer our insights . . . you need an attorney in your state to advise you on the law.

I assume you have a sexual harassment policy in your signed paperwork from the employee who quit, and that the first step in the sexual harassment resolution policy is not “quit your job”.

If so, then you don’t have much to worry about. She didn’t tell you about it, she quit instead. Then you had to solicit the information from her. What was she planning to do, quit and then sue you? Highly unlikely.

Mountain meet mole hill.

With regard to the GM, I’d ask him about it. If he asked her out more than once - then tell him it isn’t working out. If he denies ever asking her out, same thing.

More importantly, was she worth losing your job over? :lol:

Apologize to the employee who quit.

Fire the manager.

Explain to all employees what is and is not acceptable. Add the issue to your employee manual.

Having been on the ‘accused’ side of a complaint, it might be best to investigate further…

In these days, policies should be spelled out in advance…

Tho its ‘unacceptable’ for a GM to pressure/ask/intimidate/imply/etc. a dating relationship with any employee, new or seasoned, the industry is awash in similar relationships & can’t/won’t be stopped by those who wish to wander down that path…

We must enlighten ourselves and our staff to the consequences and act accordingly…

Ok having had 300 employees and a full hr dept under my belt to handle these issues I will say that my imput is more second hand than first…but there are so many factors at play that can really effect the outcome. To touch on what others have added:

First, RG… the “don’t quit if you are harrassed” policy? Sorry, that is crazy to think that most employees would actaully come in and file a complaint. They do not. They usually quietly go away and the person that caused the problem continues with others. The problem employee ends up costing you a lot of money and time in the long run.

Second, I don’t think you need the attorney yet. I think you should sit down with the gm, with an independent witness, to talk about what happened. Get their side of the story and try to fit the big picture of it all together. If this person quit, she felt threatened and left. You will need as Steve said to let the gm go and should apoligize to her. As you said…it is his probationary period and this really shows how he will manage your shop.

Third, like I said before…make sure this is all in writing for new and exsisting employees and is signed off on annually. It protects you the owner and the employees. Also helps support any terminations that may need too happen. Yes, relationships will happen no matter what you write down…but this was not one…it was an unwanted advance of a person of authority on a lower employee that was ongoing and continued after she said NO!

One last thing, it is not the employee that quietly quit via email that you need to worry about suing you. It is the 20 people around here that now know why she quit and are telling her about her big payday to come if she does. Although she might not want to…the peer pressure to take action could get too her. Your defense is simple. You did not know until you inquired about her quiting. You then investigated and terminated the problem gm. You apoligized to her, and asked that in the future she should bring this to the attention of someone higher up asap, and then offer her the job back. This all helps you if this were to go any further.

I didn’t say that most employees would file a complaint. I said that she didn’t. Reread what I said, and I think you will see that you and I said exactly the same thing.

  1. Don’t worry about an attorney.
  2. Ask the GM about it.
  3. Let the GM go.

It doesn’t really matter what the GM says. There was obviously a problem - unless he is some sort of superstar then move on to the next person.

It never hurts to get legal counsel…period. Follow his/her advice on what to do to a tee!

While I am sure those offering advice here mean very well, this is a legal issue that needs legal advice from a lawyer…

The phone call for an attorney needs to be followed up with a call for EPLI insurance.
This is insurance for employers. It stands for Employers Practice Liability Insurance. It covers items like this. I currently have been using it for 6 years and have never had a claim. It protects you from moronic employees who put you at risk.
I pay less than $1k annually for $5k of deductible coverage. Very much worth it. We know what not to do, however, we don’t always have control over others’ actions.
Bubba

Well, on second thought pcuezze - I think you should close your doors right now - and make sure you fence off your parking lot - to make certain that you don’t continue to leave yourself open to liabilities.

Make sure you talk to at least 2 different lawyers - because the first one could be wrong. So you need a lawyer to tell you if the other lawyer is right. Also, I’d go ahead and contact all applicable state and federal agencies.

I’m sure your ex-employee is already talking to Gloria Allred!

While the humorous antics above are taken as intended . . . not one person here is licensed to practice law and/or interpret the relevant local state labor law for the OP. I stand by my recommendation to get a 1 hour consult with a local attorney. He could give you some court-tested documents and/or language to use in setting policies to strengthen your practices going forward. See, these guys are absolutely experts in this sort of thing . . . we make pizzas . . . he can’t fix dough that doesn’t brown or coupon offers that don’t bring in new business.

Ive got a question about sexual harassment. I know noones an attorney here, but I’d like some opinions anyways.

In my company, there is NO personal contact between manager and employees. NOne. No Facebook, no social media of anykind, no going out together after work, no hugs, no “I love you’s” Basically NOTHING that could be taken and used as an excuse for sexual harassment. Maybe I’ve been jaded after 30 years in this godforsaken business, but its AMAZING what I’ve listened to as “sexual harassment” from people who i hold in LESS than high regard. And its almost always the same. Once an employee gets in trouble, interactions with management that were NEVER a problem become sexual harassment. So, no more chances. Managers are allowed to talk about work issues, nothing, ever, ever ever else. This is the only way I know of stopping it.

My question though, is as follows. Managers, I can control. Employee to employee is a bit tougher. I have always believed that sexual harassment can only be claimed AFTER the incident has been brought to managament attention. After managment has been made aware of the incident, he takes action. If the action OCCURS AGAIN, THEN sexual harassment claims against the company and individual can proceed. Is this correct?
Thanks.

I know that having 10-20 employees will dictate how you handle this over a larger company…we had 300+ but personally I think smaller companies should take the steps before hand also. We mandate that all managers and leads go through training to cover this as well as many other issues that might arise in the work environment to educate them on not doing it for starters and also to recognize seeing it happen with people that work under them. We also have all employees attend a class on sexual harassment and how to report it about themselves and others if they witness it happening. I disagree with the comment that a person that feels harassed can only proceed once reported and action taken by the employer. The real issue here is that most do not report and tend too quit instead of confronting the problem person. The trend after they quit is that they usually are pressured by friends and family to seek legal support after the fact and before they even inform the employer that anything has happened. Every situation is so unique and needs to be investigated to the fullest extent and I think being as proactive as possible and having a well-writen employee handbook is of the utmost importance.

Having policies in place will assist in defending claims such as this…Also, discussing said policies at staff meetings and one on one reviews with notes to personnel files…If you are diligent and pro-active even if the claims have some truth to them, you can often successfully defend them…

I want too add one big word that will come up if and when this happens. CONSISTANTCY! Being pro-active is the starting point but also having a writen plan as to how to document, investigate, and resolve any claim of harassment no matter what the type. This has too be applied equally from your worst trouble making employee to your best worker you ever had. You cannot favor one over another no matter what. This policy needs to be understood by all employees. Having an effective and well written handbook is so important. Spell it all out. Make everyone read and acknowledge that they have read and UNDERSTAND the book. Have an employee meeting and read the book to them. Then ask for questions. Then have a one on one with each person as many will not question things in a group setting. Only after all of this can you reasonably expect that having them sign off on the acknowledgment will hold up if something were too happen. After this, updating the handbook or at least a review every 6 months. You will constantly find things that come up that you will want to add to the book. Every employer situation is their own and as you have the good and the bad transpire you will learn what you want to cover in writing. This helps protect both you and the employee.

I am shocked at the presumed guilt based on what we know about this situation so far:

The only thing we (on the Think Tank) have been told is that a female employee was sent text messages and called by voice phone by a male employee and asked her out. Asking out a colleague is NOT sexual harassment in the eyes of any law that I am aware of (if it is, almost the whole human race is probably engaging in criminal activity), and in many small businesses it is the start of long and wonderful relationships.

Even doing so repeatedly does not fit the definition of sexual harassment. It could eventually be grounds for stalking or depending on the actions or words other cimes, but that is a different discussion. In order to qualify for sexual harassment according to the law the employee must feel as thought their job, wages, hours, evaluations, etc. will be affected by their refusal or acceptance of the offer being made.

It may even qualify for sexual harassment if the proposals are done on the clock and interfer with the employee’s comfort in the workplace, but this starts to get into grey areas.

The next tier of severity to be examined is did the employee who was being the aggressor violate any of your company policies, particularly as they pertain to fraternization. Typically a business will create policy dictating proper conduct between employees who come from different parts of the chain of command in order to guard against their exposure to the grey areas mentioned above. Many of the persons posting here have insisted that the employees actions would be in violation of their policies, however I am guessing since you had to ask and post the question here that you do not have a specific WRITTEN policy against fraternization.

In summary, the details of the scenario so far seem insufficient to prove that this GM was indeed in violation of the lawful definition by asking out a fellow employee. Further, unless you have WRITTEN policies governing fraternization, employees of any position are welcome to ask out any other employee - whether this is wise for them or not is another matter.

In order to fully evaluate this situation you must obtain more information from BOTH employees involved! If after getting the story from both employees, you feel that the GM abused his position (such as offering or implying promotions, pick of hours, etc.) in his interaction with the female employee and violated the textbook definition of sexual harassment then you need to document every piece of evidence and let this employee go. This should not require a lawyer at this time, you are clearly backed by the law.

If after getting all of the details you feel the employee violated rules of your business (or the way you want to run your business), then I would also recommend letting this employee go, but here is where grey areas begin and it may be adviseable to consult an attorney to make sure you are not violating any unlawful termination laws yourself.

Finally, if you find the GM did nothing more than send text messages and/or verbally ask a female employee out as it has been described so far then you cannot fire him for that without a policy in place! If this strikes you as improper behavior for your GM to be interacting in, you may need to establish a WRITTEN policy for it (possibly with the advice of an labor relations attorney or human resources persons), explain that policy to the GM and you can then enforce it going forward.

As a store owner I personally encourage employees (even those at different places in the chain of command) to hang out together, date, and even marry. As stated above I think the workplace is one great place to get to know a potential mate. I have had many couples meet and have great relationships as well as even some marriages.

I do however establish other code of professional conduct and it is clear that couples private life is their own and does not belong in my store and cannot affect my operations. Further, I strictly enforce immediate dismissal of anyone who violates the textbook sexual harassment definition I have outlined here.

I think this GM clearly exhibited poor judgement by creating this situation while still in a probabionary period, but let’s not criminialize his activity until we have done our homework, heard both sides of the story and clearly defined what rule(s) he has broken.

You let your managment ask out employees? I understand that its ended, many times, in a happy relationship, but, in todays world, with todays mentalities, isn’t that simply asking for trouble??

I would agree with you (asking for a date isn’t sexual harassement), but I would be surprised if an attorney can make it so. That is why I asked if the company has to be notified that the simple asking is bothersome and troubling to the woman. If she says no, and the asking continues, I could definately see it being pursued as harassment. AND even if the woman say no ONCE, and the asking STOPS…IF the woman perceives ANY future problems with said manager as stemming from him being spurned (even if the two incidents had NOTHING to do with each other) she can see this as harassment BECAUSE she said no to his invitation…(this happens quite frequently I would ASSUME) and seek to bring a lawsuit.

It just seems dangerous to allow ANY type of fraternization between management and staff. But, again, that is only my opinion.

@gabagool -

First, I understand your concern of litigation and it is well founded. When new employees start employment with me I do have policies in place, includng a discussion of what is sexual harassment and what is not. These policies and the training are reviewed periodically by employment lawyers. In addition, I make it clear that they are expected to act in a professional manner and treat all fellow team members of any position with respect. Probably the most important factors are that set a strong example and would address any inappropriate behavior swiftly and before it escalates. This starts by simply explaining verbally that I do not tolerate the behavior they exhibited and I expect more from them, to firing someone who appears as a repeat offender. If any employee comes to me and expresses that they are uncomfortable working with another employee then that too will be dealt with, documented and monitered to ensure that the situation is improving. This doesn’t no mean the person making the complaint is always correct, but I make that determination after talking to both parties. Finally, while no one is perfect, I generally do no promote or leave people to positions of authority who exercise generally bad judgement.

Given that clear, simple policies are in place, expectatons are set, issues are addressed, and a good examples are set, yes I absolutely allow employees (even a manager and driver or inside person) dating. I feel confident that the foundation I have created will stand any legal challenge and is likely to prevent even the most daring from trying.

Let’s be honest, in 90% of the shops we are talking about here command structures that are very minor in the whole scheme of things. A likely scenario is a manager makes twelve dollars an hour and a new inside employee might make the federal minimum of $7.40. Mostly we are talking about employees for whom it is age appropriate to be dating, and seeking partners. Probably most important if people want to get together they are going to do so anyway. This isn’t IBM, careers are more than likely not being made or broken here. As the stakes go up and there is a larger gap then stricter - more explicit rules may need to be written and communicated, but let’s not pretend these jobs are something they aren’t.

All textbook sexual harassment (I have deined what that is) should be dealt with swiftly and strongly, in my business it would be an immediate firing and full cooperation with the authorities to prosecute. All inappropriate, grey area behavior should be addressed and used as a teaching moment. If it continues…back to being fired. But normal, healthy, legal relationships between people should be supported, and celebrated.

In over fifteen years of working in this business and employing over 400 different people (Domino’s Pizza and independents) I have never been sued for sexual harassment. I have employed person’s of every race,color,nationality, an sexual orientation. All are welcome so long as you show up to work on time, leave your personal issues and prejudice at the door and let’s have some good clean fun.

Come to think of it Tom Monogham met his wife Marge on a delivery to her dorm room. If I have my facts straight he courted her for quite some time (which means multiple times asking her out) before she finally gave him a chance. To the best of my knowledge they still have a strong, loving relationship. True, she was not an employee, but I think many of the same principles apply. Why would anyone not want to be a part of that kind of experience?