The #MeToo era is all about taking victims seriously and developing zero-tolerance attitudes when it comes to harassment in the workplace. This is an extremely important movement for anyone who has ever felt victimized by someone in power, and it is leading to significant change. However, it has also shone a spotlight on false allegations of sexual harassment and situations that can be a matter of differing perspectives.
Here is what to do if you find yourself accused of sexual harassment and you truly believe you did nothing wrong.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is more than just “quid pro quo” harassment in which someone demands sexual favours for promotions, raises etc. Sexual harassment is discriminatory behaviour that offends or humiliates another person. It might be in the form of inappropriate jokes or language, pornography displayed in the workplace, touching someone who does not wish to be touched, and more. Harassment can be one serious incident, or it can be a pattern of ongoing behaviour.
Be Cooperative, Not Defensive
When someone reports sexual harassment, the company is obligated to investigate. If you feel you have been falsely accused, your first reaction might be defensiveness; especially if you think the accuser is merely looking for attention or is out to get you fired. However, it is best to cooperate and participate fully in the investigative process. It is better to tell your own story and get your own words on record than to stonewall and be uncommunicative. When the investigation begins, be sure to gather a list of your own witnesses who can back your side of the story and who may have evidence the accuser is wrong or flat-out lying.
Own Up to Transgressions
Do not hide anything from the investigators. If, for example, you had a romantic and consensual relationship with your accuser, disclose it – even if it is against company policy. Eventually, management will find out and the lie will hurt your credibility. You may get fired for hiding a relationship but it’s better than being fired for sexual harassment. If you were displaying pornographic images on your computer, there is 0 sense in lying about it because IT was definitely consulted as soon as the report was made. If you told inappropriate jokes or made sexual remarks you didn’t think anyone else heard – own up to them.
Consult With a Lawyer
In Canada, everyone has the right to work in a harassment-free environment, but everyone also has the right to work without fear of false accusations. If you have been falsely accused or if you believe the accusation is truly a misunderstanding, consult with a legal expert who can help defend you and your career against the allegations.
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