Q&A: Do we have to cut ties with a valuable employee who harassed someone?
Question: We have a manager who is great at keeping production on pace and running efficiently, but he has a hard time getting along with other people. He recently said some really inappropriate things to one of his employees. Normally we would terminate for this behavior, but he is our top performer; can we avoid terminating him?
Answer: Not without paying a cost. Choosing to keep an employee, especially a manager, after they’ve acted so inappropriately can have many negative consequences. By allowing your manager to act this way, you’ve set the new (lower) standard for appropriate/inappropriate behavior. The next time someone behaves this way, you’ll have a hard time terminating that employee if you’ve chosen to keep this manager. Your actions are sending a message to your employees about what behavior is/isn’t okay in your workplace. You’re also telling employees that you value production more than their well-being or safety, so think carefully about whether that’s what you intend to communicate.
In addition, with regard to the particular employee who was on the receiving end of the manager’s conduct, you’re exposing the company to significant legal liability. A terminated employee in Washington recently won $1.5 million after being subjected to severe racial harassment from his supervisor. Following the harassing behavior, the employer decided the two individuals could no longer work together, but kept the supervisor since he was a better performer. By choosing the harasser over the victim, the employer failed to provide a harassment-free workplace and was found to have retaliated against the individual who complained (Thompson v. Smart Car & Leasing & Sales, LLC, ED Wash, Jan. 2019).
Losing a top performer to address harassment issues can hurt, but it’s probably the best for your company in the long run. You’ll be sending the right message to your employees and consistently enforcing your behavior standards; you’ll also reduce the risk of future harassment claims caused by this manager, which could mean big dollar figures. If you want to learn more about how to create a harassment-free workplace and consistently enforce your behavior standards, consider conducting onsite harassment training with Vigilant.