Harassing employees who have engaged in egregious misconduct, but whose behavior isn’t quite at the level of immediate dismissal, can receive discipline in the form of an unpaid suspension from work. Suspension addresses incidents of harassment in a particularly useful way because not only does the harasser receive a financial penalty and time to contemplate the seriousness of the misconduct, but having the harasser physically out of the workplace can calm a tense environment.
Level of Discipline
Consider whether a suspension is the appropriate level of discipline for the offense. Certain types of misconduct are sufficiently egregious that the employer can justify immediate discharge from employment, even if the employee has a previously exemplary job record. Treat employees consistently and verify that other similarly situated employees have also been suspended for similar misconduct in other divisions and departments. Use past practice and the specifics of the case to determine the length of the suspension the employee must serve.
How the Suspension is Served
Employees serving a traditional suspension do not report to work — and do not get paid — for a determined period of time. This practice is often difficult for the employer because of staffing shortages, especially if the employee is involved with critical business operations or time-sensitive projects. Some companies require employees to take a pay reduction equivalent to the number of days suspension to solve the problem. Having the employee serve the suspension on existing holidays is another alternative.
Just suspending the harasser might not be enough to curb the behavior. If the employee truly does not understand why his behavior was wrong, simply removing him from the workforce will not provide any benefit or prevent it from happening again. To address this concern, and also mitigate employer liability, require the employee to attend harassment prevention training in addition to the suspension. Ideally, the training should occur before the employee returns to the workplace.
Return to Work
Decide whether the employee will return to the existing workplace once the suspension is over or if the harasser will be moved to an alternate location, away from the victim. If you decide to move the harasser, use the suspension time to move physical belongings, complete changes such as telephone directory entries and computer set-up, and transfer files or projects the harasser was working on to the new division. Doing this while the employee is out on suspension removes any legitimate reasons the harasser may otherwise have had for returning to the former location.