In Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth,XXXXX 2257 (1998), and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton,XXXXX 2275 (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that employers are subject to vicarious liability for unlawful harassment
by supervisors. This is why it is in the employer's interest to investigate all claims of unlawful harassment.
Just because the employer does an investigation does not mean that the employer believes that harassment occurred. Rather, the employer is investigating to see if the harassment actually occurred.
The standard of liability set forth in those two court decisions is premised on two principles: 1) an employer is responsible for the acts of its supervisors, and 2) employers should be encouraged to prevent harassment and employees should be encouraged to avoid or limit the harm from harassment.
In order to accommodate these principles, the Court held that an employer is always liable for a supervisor’s harassment if it culminates in a tangible employment action. However, if it does not, the employer may be able to avoid liability or limit damages by establishing an affirmative defense
that includes two necessary elements:
(1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassing behavior, and
(2) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.
What does this have to do with you? Well, it shows that you do not have any independent rights as the supervisor. Rather, the employee has the right to report claims of illegal harassment and the employer has the legal responsibility to investigate and, if necessary, take corrective action.
The only thing that you have to do is to cooperate with the employer's investigation.
If it turns out that the employee made it up and filed a bogus claim, that's between the employee and the employer. If it wants, the employer can discipline the employee for making a bogus complaint. You have no say/control over that.
How do you protect yourself? Tell the truth and cooperate with the investigation. Don't let your buttons get pushed. Don't be upset that the employer is doing an investigation. The U.S. Supreme Court wants employers to investigate all claims.
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