to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #8 — ACTIONS OUTSIDE OF WORK CAN BE DEEMED HARASSMENT

If an employee does something outside of work that has a negative impact back in the workplace, the employer may well find himself or herself dealing with a harassment problem. Otherwise, imagine the loopholes, especially given today's technology. Ed would just have to wait until after work to send lewd e-mails or voice mail messages, or post something on social media to or about his co-worker Tricia. Or he could go low-tech and leave sexually explicit messages under her car's windshield wipers.

 

Back at work, of course, Ed acts like a perfect gentleman. But if Tricia is disturbed by his actions, and we apply the definition of sexual harassment, what have we got? An employee receiving sexual attention she doesn't want, with negative consequences: a tainted work environment. Tricia is on edge all the workday wondering what Ed will do next.

 

I investigated just such a case. One night after their shift in the company parking lot, an employee asked a female colleague if she'd like a ride home. Having no reason to suspect anything except courtesy from a fellow worker, she accepted the ride. As soon as she noticed he was going in the wrong direction, she asked to be taken home or at least dropped off. He told her he just needed to pick up something from his apartment then he'd take her home. As soon as he parked the car in his underground garage, she got out of the car and escaped. She made her way back to the workplace, completely distraught.

 

Since she never made it to his apartment, we'll never know what his final motives were. The company hired me to investigate; in the meantime, the male employee was placed on an unpaid leave of absence. His union, protecting his interests, argued that since all of this had happened outside the workplace, it wasn't a workplace harassment case. The union stressed that the woman should have referred it to the police. But I knew the law said otherwise. I suggested termination of employment for the young man, because even if he'd been placed on a different shift from the woman who filed the complaint, I knew she'd never feel comfortable with the notion that she might cross paths with him again on work premises. The company severed his employment, but stipulated that if he underwent counselling and was able to show he was no longer a threat to women in the firm, he could have his job back. He declined to pursue this option, his union's grievance was dropped, and his termination of employment was upheld.

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

1) Keep in mind this is somewhat uncommon - as the law is not designed to interfere in people's personal lives. There are many times co-workers have issues outside of work and they can resolve them or carry on a grudge, but with no ill effect at work. There are times a supervisor can just say, "you're adults - work it out yourself and I won't have to."

 

2) Don't worry that you're going too far - because it is so rare when outside actions cause an issue for the employer. However, to get along in a civilized society, we put many limits on the things we can say and do. If a person wants to say outrageous things on their own time and with their own friends and family, they are free to do so. However, when similar comments are made to a co-worker, that's where the line is drawn and the employer might have to respond.

 

3) Even if other authorities are involved, you may be too - sometimes an event takes place outside of work that involves the police or other groups in authority. That may not exempt the employer's responsibility to deal with harassment from the event that took place outside of work. Seek advice on what needs to be done.

This is TIP #8 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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