The workplace rumor mill and sexual harassment

For anyone assuming HR duties at a business in Arizona, it's important to take reliable complaints about inappropriate workplace behavior seriously. But there's something of a gray area when it comes to tips received from anonymous sources. One situation like this involved an anonymous email expressing concerns about the rapid advancement of a woman rumored to be having off-the-clock relations with the son of the company's CEO, who is also expected to head the company at some point.

Ignoring anonymous rumors can be a risky move. With the situation described above, the woman involved may claim workplace harassment if she believes unsubstantiated rumors are creating a hostile work environment for her. Even with an anonymous source, it may be possible to use an IP address to find out who is making accusations. Oftentimes, rumors involving women in the workplace do not include recommendations for actions against male employees involved, which could further complicate matters for employers should legal action be taken.

In a similar case, a court ruled that an employer's failure to put an end to rumors that a female employee slept with a male boss may constitute sex discrimination. The employee was subsequently told she would be barred from future promotion considerations. She was also instructed to avoid her boss. The employee was eventually fired, which resulted in litigation alleging the creation of a hostile work environment and retaliatory termination.

Employers are generally encouraged to take allegations of potential sexual harassment and discrimination seriously, even when sources are anonymous. When an employee is affected by workplace rumors, a sexual harassment attorney could make an attempt to resolve the issue without pursuing legal action. If this isn't possible, appropriate compensation for emotional trauma or loss of wages from retaliatory actions may be sought.

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