How To Handle Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
A recent mayoral scandal that made national headlines provides a starting point for how employers might handle the employment status of an individual charged with sexual harassment.
The mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, has been named in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former female staff member. The woman claims that the mayor made repeated sexual comments to her in the workplace. Since the lawsuit, several other women have given media interviews, alleging similarly inappropriate gestures made by the mayor in various work settings.
As a matter of law, either party may terminate an employment-at-will relationship at any time, provided the reason is lawful and doesn’t violate applicable employment laws. However, an employer that terminates an employee who has been accused of sexual harassment may face closer scrutiny from the press, clients or constituents.
Some employers may opt for the interim measure of placing an accused employee on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the criminal charges. Termination on the grounds of bad publicity isn’t technically a protected employment category. In this case, the mayor’s own party, the San Diego County Democratic Party, has called for his resignation by an overwhelming majority vote. However, the mayor recently confirmed his intention to remain in office.
However, a better practice might be to specify an employer’s protocol for responding to sexual harassment or other felony allegations in the workplace. For example, employee handbooks or other official policies and procedures manuals might codify the proper response procedure. An employment attorney might agree that, even for employees governed by an at-will employment contract, having published protocols for responding to sexual harassment claims may ensure smoother work relations.
Source: abcnews.go.com, “San Diego Mayor to Enter ‘Intensive Therapy’ Following Accusations of Sexual Harassment,” Alana Abramson