Assume that you are the supervisor of an employee who has been accused of sexually harassing a fellow co-worker. What steps would you take to handle the situation? What are the potential legal issues of which you must be cognizant? How would you help your company avoid a potential charge of discrimination (by the employee bringing the internal charge) and/or retaliation (by the individual charged with the alleged violation)? Harassment of any kind can be down right nasty. The role of a supervisor is twofold. They must protect the well being of the company they represent as well as keep their employees informed and safe.
It takes special innate and learned character traits to be an effective supervisor. One important trait I suppose would be the ability to represent three different parties at the same time. The parties being: the company, the staff in which they supervise and self. Let’s take this scenario as a case to study. For the sake of this illustration, I am Ashley. Jamie is hired as a set designer for a major company in L. A. She is a young, educated, spirited and married. One of the things that Ashley liked about Jamie when she hired her was her personal sense of style.
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The company sends Jamie all over the world to build movie and theater sets, whoever, most of her work is done in the companies L. A. warehouses. Given Jamie’s natural personality, she is always smiling, complementing others on their work as well as their personal appearance. A typical greeting from Jamie would be, “Good morning Gwen. I love your shirt. That color really looks great on you”. Another example would be, “Mr. Thomas, looking sharp”! That’s typical of what she would say to one of the board members. The industry Jamie works in is all about fashion, style and design and she is no exception.
She always wears outfits that show she thought about it. Everything about Jamie demands attention in the most unintentional way. She isn’t loud and grandiose. In fact, even though she loves to give complements and highlight the good in others, she doesn’t like a lot of attention placed on her. Miles was hired one year after Jamie, also as a set designer. He was about five years Jamie’s senior and was recently engaged. Just as Jamie was with everyone, she smiled when she talked to Jamie and complemented his work and his appearance.
Well one day, Miles made a comment to Jamie that made her feel uncomfortable. He said, “Jamie, what is your husband doing that keeps you smiling all the time”. She was really offended but she didn’t want to make a big deal out of what could very well have been nothing. She just ignored him and kept working. She thought that would be the first and last time he would say anything so inappropriate to her again so she just went on about her work as usual. But it didn’t stop. In fact it got worse. The comment that pushed Jamie over the edge if you will, is when the crew was working on a new set in Hawaii.
It was during summer so it was really hot and humid. Jamie was wearing a simple white tank top and some blue jeans that had been cut off just above her thigh area. She was sitting straddled about a huge palm tree that had fallen down during the island’s last hurricane. Miles says, in front of everyone, “Hey Jamie, I sure would like to be that palm tree right about now”. Jamie was livid! She told him off real good and then went to talk to her supervisor Ashley about the sexual harassment she feels she has been experiencing at the hand of her co-worker Miles.
Brabners says, “It is now unlawful for an employer to subject an individual to harassment. Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct on the grounds of a recipient’s sex or unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. (2008) Ashley is genuinely concerned about the accusations that has been brought to her attention and takes immediate actions. According to the Supreme Court, in order for the company not to be held liable for Miles’ alleged misdeeds, Ashley has to be sure to use reasonable care to prevent and correct the sexually harassing behavior.
If everyone involved unreasonably failed to take advantage of the complaint procedure or other preventive opportunities provided by the company and termination, demotion or reassignment is a result, then the company is clear of liability. (391, Beatty) The first thing Ashley did was talk to both Jamie and Miles separately and they gave written statements to their perception of what happened. She was conscience not to take sides or express favor of one side over the other. During this process, she had each of them bring someone out side of the company with them for personal support as well as to be a witness to Ashley’s none biases position.
Both Jamie and Miles were instructed to keep the situation confidential and to not discuss any parts of the accusations at work or to anyone in affiliation with the company whether during company hours or not. After a month long internal investigation, Miles was offered a lower paying position in another department. He refused and threatened to sue. He didn’t stand a chance at winning because evidence had proven that he had indeed been sexually harassing Jamie as well as other female and homosexual employees.
Ashley really could have fired him but instead she offered him a position that he more than likely would refuse. He voluntarily ended his employment as predicted. The way Ashley chose to handle this situation save the company from a law suit from either Jamie or Miles. She also saved the company from having to pay unemployment because Miles quite voluntarily. He was never denied employment. Even after he was found guilt of sexual harassment, he could have continued working for the company yet he refused. “Prevention is the best tool for the elimination of sexual harassment.
An employer should take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, such as affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise and how to raise the issue of harassment under Title VII, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned. ” — Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Sex U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission After that incident, the company had everyone go through sensitivity training which dealt with handling every thing from race to religion in the work place.
The company also developed a peer mediation group system. This process is to be used before it goes to upper management. This way an issue can be resolved without the treat of unfavorable consequences. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin, and religion. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.
Title VII’s prohibitions against sex-based discrimination also cover sexual harassment. According to The U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this includes practices ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for persons of either gender, including same sex harassment. (EEOC) Harassment of any kind is unacceptable and more laws are being passed to protect the civil rights of all people. We all have a responsibility to make where we work safe in every way. This includes sanity. Reference: Beatty, Jeffrey F. nd Samuelson, Susan S. (2008). Legal Environment Third Edition. Thomson Higher Education. Mason, OH. Brabners, Chaffe, and Street. (2008). Discrimination on Grounds of Sex. Retrieved May 5, 2008 from http://www. discriminationonline. com/employer/sex_discrimination. asp Lectric Law Library. (2008). Guidelines For Employers On Sexual Harassment. Retrieved May 5, 2008 from http://www. lectlaw. com/files/emp32. htm The U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2008). Sex-Based Discrimination. Retrieved May 5,2008 from http://www. eeoc. gov/types/sex. html