Sexual Harassment And Other Crimes - Ask HR Wench
Sweet Baby Jesus, this reader question is one I won't soon forget.
My co-worker Michelle went to a friend’s house late Saturday night / early Sunday morning. Her friend happened to live next door to a contract employee, Sam (who works under my supervision about 15-20 hours per week). Sam was at the friend’s house and Michelle was surprised to see him there. She was also very intoxicated when she arrived.
Michelle says that as soon as people started to leave her friend’s house, Sam "pounced on," groped and fondled her. He also removed his own clothes. She kept refusing his advances and finally left without her other friend (who was driving her).
Michelle called me at home and woke me up Sunday morning to tell me all of this. She was mortified and didn’t know what to do. She also told me that Sam talked about me while at the friend’s house saying things like “She has small breasts but she’s got a big rear end, like a black girl.”
I insisted Michelle talk to her boss and HR as this is inappropriate, and I don’t want to work with Sam anymore. She was uncomfortable talking about the situation but I insisted she get it over with. My boss and Sam’s boss both agree Sam should go. But, the HR rep said, “Well, Michelle, you’re a pretty girl, and unfortunately that comes with the territory."
What the hell? Does a girl have to get raped for HR to take some action?
This is very tricky.
What happened didn't happen at work or a work sponsored event. Therefore, technically, it is not sexual harassment.
However, it may be sexual assault. That is for a judge to decide. In order for a judge to decide that, Michelle needs to make a complaint with the police. That decision is up to her.
I encourage Michelle contact a knowledgeable and supportive sexual assault victim advocacy group if she would like help working through this situation. These groups can be found online, in the phone book and even through health care providers. Please have her email me if she needs help finding one in her area.
Now, if I were Michelle, or you, I probably would NOT want to ever see Sam again let alone work with him.
If an employee came to me and told me they were currently pursuing criminal charges against another employee due to sexual assault, it would be in the company's best interest to separate them (while they're at work) ASAP.
Because sexual harassment is against the law and the employee is essentially telling their employer that either sexual harassment, workplace violence or something else NOT OK is very likely to happen at work right now.
I do not think it would be a violation of my employee's rights to request a copy of the charge or some other type of verification that a charge is indeed pending. If a reader can prove otherwise, please let me know.
HR deals with a lot of crazies and most of the time, we need to make sure we verify what people say is happening is really happening. We also need to be careful about not violating the rights of the employee who is the alleged perpetrator. We are not the judge and jury in this case - the judge (and possibly, a jury) is.
If it is possible to separate you and Michelle from Sam, as HR I would work to make that happen immediately. I would also make sure all of you completely understood the company's policy on and how to avoid sexual harassment and workplace violence.
Just between you and me though? I would be watching him like a hawk.
If it is not possible to separate you and Michelle from Sam, as HR I would have to help his manager make a tough decision.
Thankfully, Sam is a contractor. If his services are no longer necessary, it's not as much of a surprise or big deal as a full time, regular employee being terminated for cause.
It should be Sam's boss's decision as to whether he stays or goes, as long as that decision is not based upon illegal discrimination. Firing someone for being an asshole one time, two times or just in general is NOT illegal discrimination. But firing Sam is not totally without risk.
And you're current HR rep? She's a douche bag of the highest order.
Cross posted at HR Wench