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By Jenny David
Employers that fail to investigate sexual harassment charges against an employee, whether formal or rumored, could be required to compensate the accused for damage to his reputation, according to a new Tel Aviv Labor Court ruling that greatly expands employers' obligation to investigate claims of sexual harassment. Until now, companies were only required to investigate formal complaints of harassment. Under this ruling, they will have to investigate rumors as well.
“This is the first time an Israeli court has said that sexual harassment laws are intended to protect not just the harassed, but also the alleged harasser,” Adv. Ariel Meitliss, a partner in Tel Aviv-based Weisglass, Almagor & Co., which represented the plaintiff, told Bloomberg BNA in a telephone interview March 14.
The ruling is expected to prompt more lawsuits by those accused of sexual harassment, Meitliss said, noting that “many many” employees who feel their reputations were harmed in the past by unsubstantiated rumors of sexual harassment have come forward since the ruling.
The plaintiff in the current case worked for about 18 months at a firm that imports and leases heavy industrial vehicles. He was dismissed, the company said, for disciplinary issues and because he was socially inept and not suited to the organizational culture.
When the man sought employment elsewhere, however, he discovered that he was also rumored to have sexually harassed women at his old job. Another company retracted its job offer because of the rumors, and the man then sued his original employer for 200,000 shekels ($54,600).
Judge Dori Spivak agreed with the plaintiff that his employer should have investigated the rumors of sexual harassment—to prove or disprove them—even though no formal complaint had been filed.
“Every manager must inform the sexual harassment compliance officer of any information he hears—whether a complaint or information not backed by a complaint—in order to protect not just the women or men who might have been victims of harassment, but also those whose reputation was damaged by rumors of their being sexual harassers,” Spivak wrote. “A manager should not and need not exercise discretion as to whether the information in question is solid or not.”
As soon as he heard the rumors, the manager should have passed the information on to the sexual harassment compliance officer, Spivak wrote in the detailed ruling.
There was no indication that any of the company managers who testified in court had spread the rumor to other potential employers, the judge said. To the contrary, it seemed that the company's vice president had tried to quash the rumors and help the plaintiff find a new job. Moreover, the employee had been dismissed legally, Spivak said.
The judge therefore awarded the employee only 25,000 shekels ($6,800) in compensation and 7,500 shekels ($2,000) in court costs.
The plaintiff will appeal the amount of compensation, Meitliss said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jenny David in Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at email@example.com
The ruling in Case 42650-06-14, Anonymous vs. Transport Holdings Ltd, is available in Hebrewhere.
For more information on Israeli HR law and regulation, see the Israel primer.
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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