Ellen, a janitorial worker at a large manufacturing com- pany, complained to HR that Doug, her supervisor on the swing shift, had been making unwanted sexual
advances toward her, patting her on the butt and giving
her hugs that made her uncomfortable.
Doug adamantly denied that he had engaged in such
behavior and claimed that Ellen’s allegations were “cooked
up” to avoid being scrutinized over her own poor job performance.
In investigating the complaint, Sue, the HR director,
wasn’t able to identify any witnesses who could support
or refute Ellen’s allegations. But rather than writing the
case of as inconclusive, Sue kept digging. She discovered
evidence in Doug’s personnel fle that he had been repri-
manded t wo years earlier for making comments of a sexual
nature to another female employee. Further, Sue combed
through Ellen’s previous performance reviews and found
that her positive ratings contradicted Doug’s assertion that
Ellen had a track record of poor performance.
Sue’s conclusion: Ellen’s account was credible, while
there was reason to believe that Doug was not being truthful. As a result, she determined that Doug’s colleagues
could no longer trust him, and the company ended his
Irene, an administrative assistant at an employee leasing company, quit her job without ofering any
explanation and subsequently applied for unemployment benefits.
Some executives were tempted to oppose her application on the grounds
that Irene had left voluntarily and
without making any formal complaints. But Cheryl, the HR director,
wanted to investigate further before
making any decisions.
So Cheryl called Irene and told
her she wanted to learn more about
the reasons behind her abrupt departure. In doing so, Cheryl discovered that Irene had been subjected
to ofensive sexual behavior by two
male employees at the company. She
had never complained because she
After investigating further, Cheryl
informed Irene that the company
would no longer oppose the unemployment claim and thanked her
for sharing the information. Then
she worked with the ofending employees’ managers to ensure that the
two workers received written reprimands and warnings.
This story provides a stark contrast to a similar case at another
organization, when an ex-employee
fled for unemployment after quit-ting, stating that she had been subjected to sexual harassment. In that
instance, the HR and executive
teams disputed the former worker’s
claim without ever speaking with
her. They asserted that because the
employee had never complained to
HR or management during the time
she worked at the company, she had
waived her right to unemployment.
After all, the company had robust
anti-harassment policies and training programs in place.
The woman contested the compa-
ny’s denial of the beneft, and an ad-
ministrative law judge found in her
favor and awarded her unemploy-
ment. But it didn’t stop there. The
ex-employee then went to the U.S.
Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC), which found
cause to believe that she and others
had been victims of sexual harass-
ment. After the agency threatened to
sue the employer, the company set-
tled the claim, paying much more
than the unemployment benefits
would have cost.
By contrast, in the first case,
Irene didn’t hire an attorney or
bring forward any claims because of
Cheryl’s deft handling of the case.
In fact, when another employee subsequently fled a harassment claim
with the EEOC, Irene testifed in her
former employer’s favor. Her statement was instrumental in defeating
Lesson Learned: Cheryl did not
allow herself to get caught up in a legal debate about whether Irene had
made a timely complaint. Instead,
she focused on getting to the bottom
of what had happened. She found the
problem and corrected it. Doing the
right thing also helped to protect the
Keep in mind, though, that it’s
always a good idea to talk to your
employment attorney before following up in situations like these. He or
she can let you know if there could
be any potential complications you
haven’t thought about.
A TALE OF TWO
HE SAID/SHE SAID