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False harassment claims can devastate your career

Recent news is full of allegations of sexual harassment and worse, and powerful men seem to be losing their jobs, their reputations and millions in settlement money rather quickly after accusations become public. While it is unclear to outsiders the exact nature or level of some of these alleged acts, you may be concerned about your future if you are also facing such claims.

If you are certain that the assertions someone made are unfounded, your instinct may be to refuse to acknowledge the charges and ignore the investigation that must necessarily follow allegations of harassment. However, there are steps you can take in an effort to protect yourself.

When harassment isn't cut and dried

The first step you can take in the wake of sexual harassment charges is to learn all you can about your options and to obtain advice about how to proceed. Even if authorities have filed no criminal charges against you, there may still be consequences if your company decides to make you an example or fails to adequately investigate the charges.

In your mind, you may have done nothing wrong. In fact, frequently, sexual harassment accusations may stem from a variety of circumstances, for example:

  • The person filing the complaint misunderstood your intentions, or you misunderstood the other person's boundaries.
  • You inadvertently offended the accuser with an innocent remark or gesture.
  • You recently broke off an ill-advised consensual relationship with a co-worker or subordinate who is now accusing you of harassment.
  • A co-worker claims to have seen inappropriate pictures on your computer.
  • The accuser simply wants to damage your career.

A company wishing to protect its ethical standing will call for an investigation, and yours may be no different. Your human resources department may conduct interviews with witnesses, or an outside investigator may handle the situation. By cooperating with the investigation, even if you feel you are entirely in the right, you will have the opportunity to tell your side of the story, present evidence to support your innocence and offer a list of witnesses who will favor your side.

What is sexual harassment?

While some behavior is obviously reprehensible at any time or place, other actions or words may ride the blurry line between acceptable and offensive. Nevertheless, the law regarding sexual harassment includes three rather subjective tests as follows:

  • The other person does not want you to do or say the allegedly offensive things.
  • The person took offense at what you said or did.
  • A reasonable person would take offense at what you said or did.

So, if the incident or action in question meets all three of these conditions, it is legally sexual harassment. However, because you may not have realized your behavior would cause offense, you may be uncertain how to proceed with your own defense. Seeking advice from a California attorney will prove advantageous, as you will have an advocate whose goal is to protect your rights.

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