The situation: An employee complained that her boss wanted her to stay at his hotel, etc. and that he held up a promised $2,000 wage increase to apply pressure to do so.
The response: The VP of Human Resources informed the employee that after an investigation it was determined: 1. Her boss admitted to crossing the line and wanted to apologize. 2. Her raise and promotion are on hold since she no longer wanted to work with that boss, and 3. Her boss will be disciplined, but not fired, “because there was no touching involved.” The investigation that was relied upon to reach this determination lasted approximately 30 minutes, and did not involve either co-worker interviews or a discussion of quid pro quo harassment.
Let’s assume that the VP was in over his head and didn’t know how to appropriately handle such a complaint. It’s clear that he had no idea of what issues should be considered in identifying sexual discrimination or harassment in the workplace, or how to handle an issue if it arose. Of course, it goes without saying that he should have been properly trained on how to identify and prevent such harassment.
It also goes without saying that he should have acted responsibly to handle the complaint, not only by giving it the respect and weight it deserved, but also by protecting the organization. Let me be clear – I don’t mean “protect the organization” by trying to shove the complaint (and complainant) aside. I mean that he should have recognized that he was over his head. Instead of blundering forward, he should have gotten help, either from the individuals he reports to or possibly his organization’s employment counsel. Often a short phone call can provide at least an opportunity to discuss an action plan that could have set the organization on the right path. Instead, it looks like this organization is headed for litigation which could cost them many multiples of the employee’s salary to resolve, and all the bad PR that comes along with it.