Don't play Sherlock Holmes with a work investigation

by on May 4, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Employees should report harassment immediately and not conduct their own work investigations.

An employee who failed to report sexual harassment promptly was wrong to wait until she had assembled proof during her own work investigation, a federal appeals court said. The court ruled for the employer in this case, from Missouri. The court said the employer had a clear policy on reporting harassment, and the employee unreasonably didn’t take advantage of it.


In the employee’s lawsuit against the employer, she claimed a male supervisor harassed her for more than two years. Finally, she reported him – over a company hotline – on the day that a friend of hers witnessed the final incident of harassment. The supervisor was fired two days later. The employee claimed that her delay in reporting the supervisor was reasonable because she was waiting until she could produce a witness.

But the employee was missing the point, the court said. “Though we understand why (an employee) would want tangible evidence to buttress her version of events, this cannot excuse her failure to report,” the court said. In light of this, you may want to reinforce to employees the necessity of promptly reporting any sexually unwelcome conduct – and not playing detective with their own work investigation and building a case first. Any work investigation is up to you, not the harassment victim.

Cite: Adams v. O’Reilly Automotive, No. 07-3599, 8th Cir., 8/15/08.

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