The sex abuse scandal that has embroiled Pennsylvania State University presents no shortage of troubling story lines. Most horrific, of course, are the central allegations that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused eight or more underage boys over at least two decades. But just as discomfiting from an organizational perspective are the reports that school officials knew of the abuse allegations and did not act.
The same grand jury investigation that led to Sandusky’s indictment on 40 charges of child molestation also resulted in perjury charges for high-ranking administrators. The ensuing controversy culminated in the ouster of storied football coach Joe Paterno, as well as the forced resignation of University President Graham Spanier.
Thankfully, most companies never confront employee behavior as toxic as the Sandusky allegations, but because the scandal has captured the nation’s attention, it presents a powerful object lesson.
Over the past several decades, courts have steadily expanded the remedies available to employees who are victimized by misconduct in the workplace, whether criminal or civil. In many cases, organizations that don’t take effective action or try to cover up violations face more severe penalties than the individual perpetrator.