Sexual Harassment: Crowdsourcing advice

How would you handle this situation of sexual harassment?
How would you handle this situation of sexual harassment?

I had a situation posed to me today that I wanted to get an answer to by tapping into the collective expertise of the readers of this blog. I am going to relate a story of “sexual harassment” and see what the crowdsourcing answer is. Ready?
The story
A friend called me and said he was struggling with what to do and was wondering if he could run a situation by me and get my response. He had terminated a female employee the other day on the basis of poor sales performance. During the termination and exit interview the female employee said “I wanted to tell you about something that occurred at a conference.” What she told about was a conference two years ago during a time when she was an administrative employee and not a sales rep. After the business portion of the conference many people retired to the bar. My friend left and went home so he did not personally witness any of this; it was just the story being told to him.
The female sales rep relayed that as the evening went along and many drinks had been consumed another manager, the boss of my friend, started getting “frisky” with the female employee. He put his hand on her knee and was rubbing it occasionally. He then suggested that since they both had rooms for the night that perhaps they should retire to one of them for more “friskiness.” She declined his offer and they went their separate ways. Nothing else was said. Later she changed positions in the company going into sales. More than a year later she was not doing well as a sales rep and thus was terminated for poor performance, by my friend, which led to this story being told.
His quandary
The reason he called me was he was wondering what he should do with this information. As a manager, there are company rules that state that he has an obligation to report any incidents of anything that might appear as sexual harassment. He called the company ethics hotline anonymously and was told they could not answer his question as to whether he should report it or not. So that was his question to me, should I report this? Oh, by the way, he is concerned because there is a culture of not being kind to people who “rat” on other people. So he is concerned about his job if he goes forward.
A review of the facts
Here is a quick review of the facts so that you can make an informed decision:

  • This occurred over two years ago
  • The female employee did not say “sexual harassment”
  • The female employee did not report the incident at the time
  • The female employee did not suffer any job action as a result of rejecting the “friskiness”
  • My friend only learned of this as a side note to a termination process that had nothing to do with the incident
  • He made an attempt to report it to the “ethics” people, but has not tried HR
  • He is afraid that reporting it may at some point cost him his job under the guise of poor performance

His question to me was “What should I do?”
Your answer
I am not going to tell you my answer. I want to find out what you would tell this man if you got this call. You can approach it from a legal perspective, an HR perspective, a friend’s perspective, or whatever point of view you want to take. Just leave an answer so we can learn from the collective wisdom.

10 thoughts on “Sexual Harassment: Crowdsourcing advice”

  1. This was received from a LinkedIn contact:
    Although the information is dated and may not be construed as harassment as the lady in question was able to say no and suffer no ill effects on the job; making HR aware is not a bad decision. The friend does not know for certain if there is a pattern or if others may have or are currently reporting the individual asserting themself or making advances or flirtatious comments which may be unwelcome.
    HR can then take the information and lay it aside to watch and see if there is or has been an issue or add it to a case which may be on-going. Additionally, HR could take this as an opportunity to hold a mandatory harassment refresher course for all employees. The “refresher” course does not single any individual or department from the company but rather reiterates what the law says how certain actions may be construed as harassment. Some may not realize just how broad the definition for harassment has been written.

  2. It would be so easy to say she effectively turned away unwelcome attention and leave it at that. The timing of her choice to share the information suggests to me that some level of documentation is required. I don’t think the incident itself requires investigation, but that’s for HR to determine. It should be reported to HR for them to decide on next steps. As an HR leader, given the awareness we’ve tried to create, I would be troubled by any manager withholding that information.

  3. The manager should report it to HR. Assuming HR is consistently re-iterating the fact that managers should report any type of harrassment/discrimination comments, they would like use this as a training opportunity.
    Depending on the circumstances (have other departing/current employees made comments), HR would probably have a discussion with the accused.
    It is important to report it to HR in the event this situation has happened in the past. If no one EVER reported these things (whether or not at termination or while still employed), this creep would continue to get away with his unwelcomed advances.

  4. Mike,
    Realistic situation to be sure. I agree in part with the previous posts. Not sure you have a situation worth investigating. I do agree that an annual refresher on harassment and other compliance matters including ethics and the use of the hotline they have would be appropriate. Perhaps scheduling it before the next sales conference. As to the HR person being fearful of their position, that reeks of a bad culture in the organization in my humble opinion. May be time to move on, but before leaving he should tactfully talk directly with the CEO.

    • Greg:
      Thanks for the response. I agree with you that the organization is not ideal that my friend would fear for his job if he reported this incident. A “protect all managers at any cost” type of attitude will get the organization in trouble for sure.

  5. Most posts are in line with my thoughts, as well. The manager can report the statement from the female, simply as a fact that HR should have on record.
    As others have said, there’s not much to be done from a legal perspective. She didn’t saying anything for two years, and she apparently failed to take advantage of the company’s report structure.
    But your friend should, indeed, tell HR about the information he learned from the fired female employee.
    Steve Lovig

  6. I suggest there is nothing to report.
    There is nothing to suggest sexual harassment. He asked her if she was interested and she declined. There is no indication of veiled or actual threat or reward. It was an offer and a declination. It stopped there.
    If you friend terminated the person for objective poor sales results (performance) the termination is justified. Everything else in this story is chaff.
    No he should not report anything. There is no reason presented to suggest harassment.

  7. I would encourage the friend to report the information to HR, and to allow HR to determine whatelse, if anything, should be done.
    As a best practice, I believe it is important for managers/supervisors to always document comments or questions that are made by individuals who are being separated and for the managers/supervisors to provide that information to HR.
    Not only does such a practice allow HR the opportunity to assess whether or not a potential legal issue may need to be reviewed, it may also provide the company with valuable information about an individual’s experience while employed (pros and cons). Such information is often captured in conjuction with a formal exit interview, but it is helpful to document comments made at the time the employee is notified of the decision to separate.
    At a minimum, I hope that HR would counsel the “boss” on the potential risk his alleged actions created.

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