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Dealing With Sexual Harassment or Other Illegal Activity

This article is not to be construed as legal advice. It is not that. Check your local and state laws and act in accordance with them and your company's published procedures.

Well, it finally happened. The employee sitting across the desk is telling you that the boss came on sexually and now the employee fears losing the job. Now what do you do?

You turn in the boss. Immediately.

You do not protect the company. You do not protect the boss. You do not put forth a blast of hot air, "Are you sure? Why I’ve know so and so for years...."

You do not make decisions.

Be advised that just because the employee tells you that he or she feels better when leaving your office it is not a resolution of the situation, meaning that you are still liable in a court of law. You are not absolved from having to report this situation. Failure to report this could ruin your reputation.

That’s not your job.

Your job is to act in the employee’s best interest and to protect that employee. You have just been informed of illegal activity and must act. You are required to act. Not to act is to cover up illegal activity and place yourself in danger of being sued. To cover up, hide, or not report illegal activity is a crime. Think it’s not? Suppose I tell you that I just killed someone, robbed a bank, kidnapped a child, beat someone up, threatened someone’s life, threatened to fire someone if ... you see, it is illegal.

Ask yourself, "Who would hire a human resources professional that was sued for covering up a case of sexual harassment?"

Nobody.

Oh, but no, wait! You never attempted to cover anything up, you say. No of course not. All you did was not report it.

Well, what’s the difference?

Let's hope you are articulate because you may get the chance to explain it in court.

Just remember the child abuse cover-up in the Catholic Church. That’s what’s waiting for you if you keep your mouth shut.

Once informed, you must act. If there is no one in the company you can bring this to then go outside the company. Where? Start with the local police if you have to. If everything in this article does not motivate you, how’s this: lawyers get $150 per hour, $2,000 up front, or more. Should you go to court it will cost you a lot more. Now have I got your attention? This is for all the marbles, my friend.

Even more serious is a situation involving the threat of physical violence to the employee's person. This requires immediate action. Contact security. Here again once informed you must act. To throw this person to the wolves paints you in a vile light.

Here are a few words you may want to remember. An employee comes to you and says, "I have a problem. Can we talk in confidence?"

You say, "Yes, certainly, but you need to understand that if this is about sexual or physical harassment or other illegal activity, I will make the situation known and take whatever actions I deem necessary. Should this be about anything else, you may rely on my discretion."

See what you’ve done? You have informed the employee that you will not keep illegal activity quiet. And, more importantly, have not blindly agreed to a confidential conversation of unknown nature. Now, the employee cannot say that you agreed to remain silent because you have no expectation of confidentially. Gosh, you’re smart.

As an aside, I have six clauses in my professional contract that pertain to confidentially. The first four do not concern us here. The last two do concern us and they are:

[This obligation of confidentiality shall not apply to information that: ]

- Pertains to illegal activity or terrorism.

- Pertains to sexual harassment, physical danger, or threats to the physical person of an employee, vendor, or other individual.

[Confidentiality clauses end.]

We take this seriously and put it in writing so that anyone we do business with knows up front that they cannot force us into silence (fat chance of that anyway, but you see the point). And, for your sake, and the sake of anyone who unburdens themself to you, we hope you take this seriously as well.

-Wayne English

Wayne is a professional writer. His material has been published in The Futurist, Smart Computing, Fate, Intercom, the magazine for the Society of Technical Communication, Link-Up and others both nationally and locally. His short fiction, Shift World, is on the Web. He may be reached at: www.wayneaenglish.com.