“Rumors Run Amok: Poorly Managing Rumors of an Alleged Affair Opens Title VII Liability”
Bruce’s Summary: First, although this is a Fourth Circuit Court ruling and not a Ninth Circuit Court ruling, the case itself is a great example of how a rumor can take on a life of its own within the work environment if not appropriately addressed. The author provides a great training case study for human resources to use in what not to do when addressing rumors within their workplace.
Also, part of HR’s professional responsibility when first evaluating whether the allegation(s) warrant an internal investigation is – can the investigation be performed in a neutral and fair manner or is key management too close to the individual(s) affected and/or the issue(s) alleged? This is not a good or bad thing, but it needs to be part of the impartial evaluation.
If I have learned nothing else over the last 35 years in human resources, the emotion never leaves the complainant, respondent and individuals involved, including at times those in management and this can cloud even the best of intentions. For HR professionals, determining if management is too close and addressing it in the initial evaluation phase is key in ensuring a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation.
HR Professionals perform many roles within their sphere of influence and fortunately or unfortunately, at times, this includes having the conversation in helping management understand that they may be just too close to the person(s) or the issue(s). If it is recognized that management is too close, a good defense in protecting all concerned is the use of an impartial outside neutral investigator.
The author does a good job in showing the company’s “many missteps, as the company fumbled with the rumor” and provides key takeaways that can be incorporated into a “best practices” HR process. “None of the information contained herein should be construed as legal advice, nor are Calvin Associates consultants engaged to offer legal advice. If there is a need for legal advice, please contact and seek the advice of independent legal counsel.” www.calvin-associates.com