This employee threatened to shoot his co-worker and her husband. Was the company somehow responsible?
Clara Gillis worked as a cashier at Wal-Mart alongside colleague Edward Soto.
Soon after she started working, Soto began harassing Gillis, and Gillis would often catch Soto staring at her.
To make things creepier, Soto then moved into the same apartment complex as Gillis and her husband. Soto then invited Gillis and her husband to “see his other house.” For some reason, Gillis and her husband took Soto up on his offer, and once they got to his other residence, Soto showed them his collection of guns.
After returning to the apartment complex at the end of the evening, Soto commented that he could “easily pick [Gillis and her husband] off with a sniper rifle.”
Concerned that their lives had just been threatened, Gillis and her husband quickly moved out of the apartment complex and filed a police report. Gillis also eventually filed a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim against Wal-Mart.
The court denied her claim, saying that many of the events Gillis claimed as harassment occurred outside of a work setting and were completely unrelated to her job with Wal-Mart. Furthermore:
“even if they were somehow related to Gillis’s workplace, the conduct on which Gillis relies is simply too isolated in time and insufficiently pervasive or severe to have polluted Gillis’s workplace or alter the conditions of her employment within the meaning of a sexual hostile work environment claim.”
When is it harassment?
Though Wal-Mart won on the hostile work environment claim, attorney Neal Buethe, writing for Minnesota Employer, noted that firms can’t just ignore all off-site work conduct as unrelated to the workplace.
Instead, Buethe suggests employers ask the following questions when dealing with a complaint about an employees’ off-site behavior:
- Where did the incidents occur?
- Have they been replicated in the workplace?
- Were they related to the job?
- Was a supervisor involved?
Buethe also had a solid takeaway for HR:
After-hour interactions and socializing between employees is commonplace and can certainly give occasion to negative incidents with the potential of a hostile environment complaint. But as the recent Gillis case out of Oregon illustrates, with the right investigation, an employer may be able to properly determine that what happened at happy hour can stay at happy hour.
The case is Gillis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.