Dear Readers: Sexual harassment is a serious issue that I’ve written about on a number of occasions. But the following email made me realize there was one aspect of it I hadn’t covered-what happens to people falsely accused of harassment. Tell me how you’d respond to the person who wrote the following email and what you think of the issues he raises.“A female coworker lodged a charge of sexual harassment against me. My supervisor informed me that a formal investigation into the charge(s) would be commenced. Shocked by the allegation, I developed a deep sense of fear and overall sickness. I became so ill that I had to seek medical assistance. I requested administrative leave and was summarily denied.
I was put through a five month investigation in which all of my coworkers and colleagues were questioned about what they may have observed or heard. The findings of the investigation yielded no substantiation to the allegations made by the female coworker.
Subsequently, I made a written request for reasonable accommodation under the American’s with Disabilities Act, a transfer from the worksite. Employer denied the request citing that ‘a good faith personnel action was taken.’
After being released from treatment by my doctor, I was ordered to return to work at the very same job and worksite in the presence of my colleagues and the accuser. My physician had given me a medical preclusion from returning to the worksite since, in his opinion, the worksite is injurious to my health. I chose to follow my physician’s advise and not return to the worksite. I was then terminated from my employment because of ‘my failure to return to work after being directed to do so.’
Because this matter involves a public employer and I have no money, I am unable to locate an attorney to assist me in putting things right. As a further insult, the employer is issuing to prospective employers references containing statements which have been both ambiguous and go beyond stated policy. These statements have made it virtually impossible for me to obtain employment for the last 3 years.
I realize that there is no room for sexual harassment in the workplace and the employer has an affirmative obligation to investigate all allegations or instances of sexual harassment. The accuser should be afforded all necessary protections, rights and remedies should the allegations be proven. However where are the rights of the FALSELY accused? As it stands presently, the accused are afforded no rights, even if it’s determined they’re innocent of the allegations. Isn’t it time for policy makers to think this through and fix this problem for individuals who have experienced the hellishness I’ve been through? The mere allegation of sexual harassment can destroy careers, marriages, and relationships with others. It can even leave you bankrupt and destitute.”
What advice would you give to this person? Do you think that he raises a legitimate issue? What do you think should be done for someone in his position? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Working Wounded poll:
After someone is cleared in an investigation of sexual harassment at work, what should happen? (3,329 responses)
- The person should be watched very carefully, 3.3%
- Nothing. Things should return to the way they were, 18.2%
- The company should bend over backwards to help the person, 78.4%
Working Wounded strategy:
Our winning strategy for someone falsely accused of sexual harassment comes from Peter M. in Santa Clara, CA. “The best defense against sexual harassment is to avoid situations that might give rise to a complaint. It is not necessary to date co-workers, make comments about their appearance, tell jokes or make comments that have sexual innuendo, or to use profanity. If a women co-worker seems to encourage such behavior or appears interested in having discussions about sex related matters, avoid the discussions. In the event that a sexual harassment complaint is made, treat it with the same importance you would attach to being arrested and charged with criminal conduct: Get a the best lawyer you can afford as quickly as possible.”
Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. Sherrie Campbell is a relationship and business professional, having applied her counseling background in a variety of challenging organizational settings. They’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you have better ideas than they do. Also check out their complete column archive at workmash.org, “The Boss’s Survival Guide” and “Gray Matters: The workplace survival guide.” Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.