When There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: Allegations of Harassment Can Point to Liability

The recent departures of high-profile executives and the flurry of harassment lawsuits provide plenty of teaching moments for employers. Notably, these very public exits and lawsuits are a prime example of why employers must act decisively when complaints of harassment arise in the workplace. Unfortunately, this situation is all too familiar for some employers. Some employers may be tempted to overlook the conduct of top performers even though it may open the door to liability. However, it is critical that allegations of harassment be taken seriously and that prompt investigations are conducted by employers. Sometimes it’s necessary to bring in third-parties to conduct a thorough investigation particularly if higher level executives are involved or if there is a pattern of troubling allegations.

Employers have a legal obligation to ensure that the workplace is free from harassment and discrimination. Employers that do not effectively and promptly address allegations of harassment and remediate actionable harassment in the workplace can be faced with lawsuits and reputational damage.

Employers are well advised to revisit their anti-harassment policies to ensure that these policies are up-to-date and contain appropriate complaint and investigation procedures, in addition to a robust anti-retaliation policy.  Training of supervisors and employees is critical to having an effective anti-harassment policy.  In particular, supervisors should lead by example as their actions and inactions set the tone of the company.