Sexual Harassment Awareness for Supervisors

Case #8: You Be the Judge
A male employee of an auto manufacturer is in the middle of a light-hearted workplace telephone conversation. He suddenly puts the receiver aside and dons a serious countenance, apparently remembering an important job task left undone. Instead of tightening some neglected bolt or putting the finishing touch on a paint job, he grabs and pinches a female coworker, then promptly returns to the telephone and resumes his conversation.

The sexual harassment victim reports this incident to her supervisor and the perpetrator must be punished.

Should he be promptly discharged? Suspended without pay? You be the judge.

Pincher Solution: If you think the harasser was fired (raise your hand) and you are absolutely correct. But there are no losers here—if you think the harasser was suspended, you are also right. Confused?

The employer, believing “it had right on its side,” confidently terminated the harasser for misconduct. However, an arbitrator called on to resolve the union’s grievance had a different idea. Finding that the harasser could be “rehabilitated,” the arbitrator concluded that the employer should have used its progressive discipline procedure which requires a 30-day suspension without pay prior to discharge.

In disbelief over being ordered to reinstate (with back pay, yet) and this employee guilty of flagrant sexual harassment, the employer sought review by a federal appeals court. The employer contended that the arbitrator’s decision must be reversed because it violates the “public policy” against workplace sexual harassment. Siding with the arbitrator, the court noted that there was another “Public Policy” at issue here – the policy favoring the rehabilitation of misbehaving employees.

The bottom line: The employee was given a chance to prove that he wasn’t a “chronic” grabber and pincher.

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