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Dealing with Sexual Harassment No Matter Your Role

Sexual harassment issues at work can be some of the most difficult and challenging to deal with. In addition to facing a work environment that makes you uncomfortable – and in some cases downright frightened - you also need to worry about your professional reputation. Sadly and all too often, victims of sexual harassment are the ones that suffer long-term consequences. Unfortunately, the consequences can be just as negative if you are falsely accused of harassment.

Laws exist to protect people who are sexually harassed in the workplace, but there is very little designed to protect those who are falsely accused. Many assume that because the accuser must prove guilt of the accused, the accused is considered innocent until proven otherwise. This is not always the case and the mere accusation of sexual harassment can leave the reputations of both parties in tatters.

Everyone is Affected

No matter your role in a sexual harassment case, your reputation can be affected. Current and future employers might see an accuser as a troublemaker, especially if there is no guilty outcome. The accused can also suffer professional damage and be judged in the future, even if found innocent.

A lack of confidentiality is the problem. There are no laws in place that require sexual harassment accusations to remain confidential, and despite some companies putting a confidentiality policy in place, accusations tend to travel through the grapevine. This puts everyone at risk for further issues.

Everything a person in a sexual harassment case says or does, now or in the future, could be tied to the harassment charge and used as leverage in a lawsuit. For instance, if a sexual harassment accusation is dismissed and the company terminates the accuser six months in the future because of job performance, he or she could point to the accusation as the cause.

What to Do?

So what actions should each party – accused, accuser, and employer – in a situation that involves sexual harassment accusations?

If possible, the company should institute policies well in advance of any issues arising. Create a confidentiality policy related to accusations and establish a well-detailed plan for dealing with accusations when they do occur.

Accusers should keep careful records of incidents, reports filed, and actions taken by the company. It is also a good idea to contact an attorney, especially if a report of harassment to a supervisor or human resources seems to fall on deaf ears

And if you are accused, it is also a good idea to keep records. If you know the identity of the accuser, write the details of all interactions and do your best to always have a witness present when together. Seeking the guidance of an attorney the moment you are accused can save you a great deal of frustration and professional damage, as well.

For more information on what is and is not legally considered sexual harassment, provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If you have further questions about sexual harassment, Michael Borelli can help. Contact him at Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a consultation.

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