Reprinted with permission from Columbia Business Monthly
Proper investigation of sexual harassment complaints can yield big benefits for employers. A prompt and thorough investigation, followed by appropriate action to end any harassment, can actually insulate an employer from liability under certain circumstances.
While an employer is strictly liable if a supervisor's quid pro quo harassment causes an employee to lose tangible job benefits, an employer is liable for harassment due to a hostile work environment only if it knew or should have known that harassment was occurring and failed to take prompt steps to end it. An example of quid pro quo harassment is a TV show host discharging an assistant producer for refusing to engage in sexual activities with him. A hostile environment exists when the workplace is permeated with abusive conduct and messages that are sexual in nature and which interfere with work. Courts in numerous hostile environment cases have ruled employers who responded swiftly to harassment complaints were not liable for sexual harassment. This article focuses on the effective investigation of hostile environment claims.