Sexual harassment accusations require employers to investigate

Tennessee might feel a long way from the rising tide of sexual harassment accusations among Hollywood celebrities against their colleagues, but the problem permeates numerous workplaces. The social media hashtag #MeToo produced over a million accounts of sexual harassment and assault worldwide in less than one week. The stories of mostly private individuals revealed the extent of the bad behavior in all corners of society. With the problem in the public eye, more people might file complaints at work, and employers have legal obligations to investigate these allegations.

An employer might avoid costly litigation by conducting a thorough investigation instead of rushing to make the problem go away. Employers should take all types of harassment complaints seriously and assign a qualified individual to conduct an inquiry and document the findings.

The alleged perpetrator should be warned not to retaliate against the person making accusations. Disciplinary actions against an accused person should be carefully considered as well. The outcome of an investigation does not have to be definitive, but an employer must legally show a good faith effort to examine the possibility of harassment. If an investigation indicates that the accuser may have lied, an employer should be wary of disciplining an accuser for an unfounded complaint.

Despite these legal obligations placed upon employers, victims of sexual harassment too often receive unsatisfactory outcomes from internal investigations or even experience outright retaliation for complaints. A person subjected to offensive sexual comments, unwanted sexual advances or other harassing behavior could ask an attorney to prepare a lawsuit. A lawyer might gather witness testimony, texts, emails and employment records to prove that the harassment took place. After filing this information with the court, an attorney could pursue a settlement for financial damages inflicted by lost pay, a demotion or termination.

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