Harassment is a serious charge that will follow you everywhere.
Since the #MeToo Movement in 2018, harassment cases are slowly being taken more seriously, especially in the workplace.
It’s a wonderful thing for most. However, in rare cases, there might be false charges mixed in with genuine ones. According to this Forbes article, there might be anywhere between 150 to 750 false charges out of the 7,514 sexual harassment complaints filed to the EEOC in 2019.
Various things might cause someone to create a false harassment charge.
Some individuals, both men and women, want to take advantage of this sensitive topic and falsely accuse someone of harassment. Reasons may vary, including a recent break-up or fallout, wanting to take down the competition, or simply wanting to attack someone they don’t like in the hopes of their termination.
Conversely, it might be a misunderstanding that can be resolved after a quick investigation, as people have vastly different senses of humor and understanding.
Regardless of the reason, false accusations have consequences that may follow you for the rest of your career. You need to know how to defend yourself if, by chance, you’re a victim to one of these misleading claims.
What to Do If You’re Falsely Charged or Accused of Harassment
*Please note that we aren’t equipped to give legal advice. If you are falsely accused of a crime or harassment, we suggest seeking legal counsel from an experienced attorney.
If the threat of defamation isn’t enough, the punishment of a harassment charge also varies depending on the severity of the claim. It might be categorized as a gross misdemeanor or a felony. Serious charges, like physical harassment or domestic violence, may even fall under criminal law. With that said, here are a few steps you can take if you have false allegations against you.
Stay calm and avoid retaliation
While your first instinct may tell you to defend yourself at all costs, defensive behavior makes you look unprofessional when you’re being investigated. Retaliating, in particular, may make you look more guilty and backfire against you.
Remember to stay calm and think of your next steps thoroughly so you don’t lash out. Retaliation can be used against you as evidence that you’re guilty of harassment, even if you aren’t to begin with.
Review your employer’s harassment policy
Reviewing your employer’s harassment policy might shed light on whether what you did is harassment or not. Consider the possibility that you did make a mistake and accidentally offend someone along the way.
Additionally, your company’s harassment policy should also outline what happens next during the investigation so you can prepare for any proceedings. Knowing what to expect, who to talk to, and how to clear your name will be beneficial in the process of defending yourself.
Do not confront the accuser
When you’re told that you’re being investigated, your first response might be to meet the accuser and try to reason with them. However, the conversation can take a turn fairly quickly and they might get even more materials to prove that you’re guilty of something that you’re not. If the accuser has a grudge against you, they could especially misinterpret your words and paint you unfavorably.
A conversation between you and your accuser to “clear the air” isn’t a good idea in most cases. Even if you think it’s a misunderstanding, refrain from confronting the accuser.
Consult your HR department
Consult the Human Resources department to see what you can do to resolve the matter according to your company’s workplace harassment policy. If you have an internal HR department, it’s highly likely that they’ll be doing the investigation. They can provide you with guidelines on how to defend yourself and sometimes even mediate if the harassment charge is a simple misunderstanding.
Your HR department should be trained to handle situations like these. They can inform you about what you should expect from the investigation or what evidence you need to defend yourself.
Collect your own evidence and notes
If you’re being reported for harassment, it’s highly likely that the accuser has their own trove of evidence, whether you’re being accused of a hostile work environment or quid pro quo harassment. Start collecting your own to prove your side of the story and defend yourself. As you gather evidence, write down the encounter in as much detail as you can so you can refer to it and figure out what went wrong.
A written note might also help the investigation as you can compare the evidence each side has and see the discrepancies.
Provide your true alibi and witness accounts
Besides writing down your point of view of the incident, it’s also important that you present an honest alibi and witness accounts that might prove your innocence.
Try to recall the incident. If you were somewhere else when the alleged harassment happened, find evidence of that. This can include materials such as receipts, parking tickets, witnesses, or even pictures that may prove that you were elsewhere.
Additionally, if there are witnesses to the harassment, consult them and ask them to step forward so you can resolve the misunderstanding.
Highlight your history
If you’ve been a model employee with clean records and outstanding performance, remind your employer about your history with the company. Draw their attention to the fact that you’ve been treating your colleagues with respect and professionalism.
A history of good behavior, or at least one that’s not problematic, can help you convince the investigators that the harassment claims against you are false.
Cooperate with the investigation
Hindering the investigation will only make you look guilty. Help the investigators get to the truth by telling the truth of the incident. Don’t try to hide the facts either, as your company will certainly find out about it one way or another.
Instead, cooperate with the investigation and provide any details that are asked of you.
Contact an attorney
While your HR department and the investigator(s) will instruct you on how to proceed with the investigation, they won’t dedicate their time to building a defense for you. Instead of doing it on your own, you may consider getting legal advice from a professional attorney so you have someone with your best interest in mind and can inform you of your legal rights.
This is especially important if it’s a serious complaint, such as sexual assault allegations that could end in termination or involve criminal charges. A lawyer can help you build a stronger case and inform you of your rights and any laws you or your accuser may break.
Furthermore, make sure that you’re consulting the right kind of lawyers. For example, if you’re battling in a criminal case, choose an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
If you’re concerned about the costs, you can always find a law office or a law firm that offers a free consultation to see if the false claims are worth paying a lawyer to help you decide the best course of action.
Effective Harassment Training with Inspired eLearning
While it’s rare, false charges do happen. If you’re currently battling a false accusation, follow these tips to make sure that you’re sufficiently defending yourself. You might be thrown off due to the untruthful claims, but you need to prepare your defenses accordingly by consulting an attorney and gathering all the evidence to prove your innocence.
False charges caused by grudges and personal tension are another matter entirely, but ones caused by a misunderstanding are avoidable with adequate training. Some states even require you to take mandatory harassment training.
Effective harassment training ensures that you’re not crossing the line when you joke around with your colleagues and keep your jokes appropriate for a professional setting.
Looking for an effective training program to recommend to your HR department? See the comprehensive curriculum we’ve prepared so that you, your co-workers, and your employer know how to minimize workplace harassment and false charges.
Source : Inspiredlearning.com