Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A landscaper from Maryland called me the other day to inform me of an  “open and shut” sexual harassment claim in her company.  She proceeded to tell me that a female Field Supervisor (i.e., oversees multiple Foremen) came to her with an emotional plea that one of her male Foremen was spending an inordinate amount of time with her before work, throughout the work shift, and during meal periods and rest breaks, in a way that made her feel “uncomfortable.”

Sensitive to the Field Supervisor’s plight, yet still cognizant of the company’s Sexual Harassment Policy, I suggested that the landscaper conduct due diligence and perform a prompt, thorough, and fair investigation before making any administrative decision, since the Foreman was presumed to be innocent until proven guilty by the evidence.

You could have heard a pin drop.

Eventually, the landscaper indignantly responded that the Field Supervisor’s rights and womanhood were under siege and that it is incumbent upon the company to defend her against this type of aggression.  Surprised by her tendentious tone, I naturally agreed with her intent, all the while reiterating that said defense must follow an investigation into the specific details of the event.  

Did you just hear that other pin drop?

At that point in time, the landscaper became histrionic, implying the tenets of the Me-Too Movement should be uniformly unquestioned, and suggesting that I may be resistant to this outcome due to gender bias.  A childish comment made by a child, pretending to be an adult, posturing as a professional.

Without pause, I reminded her that company policy requires a prompt, thorough, and “fair” investigation be conducted before deciding on any type of performance management.  Disgusted, with passive aggressive bluster, and a huff and a puff, she said “fine” and began to close the conversation.  Before allowing her to end the telephone call, I stated that if she was “too close” (i.e., incapable of being objective) to this issue she must recuse herself and assign another investigator with more neutrality to the topic, event, and employees involved.  I also told her to call me once the investigation concluded and that I would be waiting for her call.

She called.  Two weeks later.  The landscaper told me that the investigation revealed the female Supervisor concocted the entire story to make her boyfriend (i.e., another Foreman in the same company) jealous in the hope that this claim would make him like her more than he was showing to her.  

Beyond the landscaper’s lack of humility, apology, and maturity, she deftly pivoted to then make critical comments about the Field Supervisor’s character.  Purposely interrupting her homily, I restated that company policies must be addressed fairly at all times, regardless of the issue, timeliness, or participants because every employee is innocent until proven guilty based on the evidence culled from the investigation.  

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.