Accused of Sexual Harassment

Question:

I have a best friend at work, who was demoted and I took over her responsibilities. She is a very attractive woman and people sometimes tease us about being a couple. We communicate through text messages and email. She has a relationship with a married man and opens up all the emotional turmoil she goes through. I had emailed her in the past that I loved her and that I would marry her if I weren’t already. I must admit, this sounds inappropriate for me to say, but I just said this to make her feel better. A lot has happened since that email and I have moved up the ranks for efficiency at work. We frequently argue and end up not talking for a while until she would eventually text me an apology (it’s always her fault, she cannot control her emotions). I was called by management yesterday (hoping it was for another promotion) but was presented with the email I sent her before. I was devastated when I saw it. I was told it had to stop. Apparently, she claims I was harassing her. Everyone at work warned me about her but I guess I was smitten by her looks. Management spoke to me yesterday and said the letters should stop. I explained my side, saying that the letter was only sent to comfort her. They asked me to put it in writing and we ended the meeting with them asking if this would affect the way we work, I told them that I am not guilty of anything but would follow their advise and remain professional with the girl. I have kept quiet since yesterday but have told a close friend at work, another female. She was so angry but said that she knows that nobody believes any of her accusations of harassment.

My question is: what steps do I take to protect myself? It’s obvious that whatever communication we send to this woman, she uses against us at work. Management thinks we had an affair, the girl said I was harassing her.

I have a 4- year old daughter who has a heart condition, and I cannot afford to lose work, but with this on my record, I feel that nothing will ever be the same again, should I request for a transfer, look for other work? Please help

Signed,

Accused of


Answer:

Dear Accused of:

Apparently you have proven that you are competent and of value to this company. But now you have a blotch on your record there. Can you live it down? Will time make the past be past? I don’t know. Can you fix it? Maybe.

Management has told you the first step to take; that is, they informed you to stop emails to this woman. You agreed and stated you would put that in writing to them. Don’t see management now as your enemy. They were forced to confront you about it, as you would have been if you were a manager. Rather seek their support in working through this matter.

Your statement of explanation will now be added to your file. In your written statement, as you undoubtedly did in your conversation with management, you can: · Explain motivation for that any emails this individual has used to suggest that your and her were romantically involved were purely platonic meant to comfort in light of her revelations of an unhappy affair with a married man. · Clarify that you only intended to console this individual. · State that her disclosing this email obviously is intended to accuse you of sexual harassment, and firmly state that such an inference has no basis in fact. · Point out that other than this earlier email or any other were intended to comfort, and that more recent emails and other communication with her have been job related. · Explain follow up emails between you have been intended for work purposes, and in some of them, you have had to point out this person’s mistakes. Add that your corrections of her plus the fact of her demotion might be the reason for her accusation of harassment. · Make it clear that unfounded accusations of another should not be allowed to go unchallenged. Request a thorough investigation to clear your name. · Ask that you and she should have no further contact. (This is a step that EEO follows when an individual accuses another of harassment.) Possibly this might entail transferring one or the other of you. · Definitely stipulate that you will have not further communication with this person.

Since you have a good record other than this, do not rush to seek work elsewhere. I know of some such cases, even one in which there was evidence of harassment, in which the individual lived it down and was promoted to a much higher level.

Finally, you say you vented your frustration to a coworker. That is a second No, No. See this whole situation as a “learning one”. You have learned now to take great care that emails are work related. Don’t gossip or obsess about this whole mess. Rather focus on making yourself even more valuable to your company. You are now a wiser individual.

Possibly my associate Workplace Doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe, will add to or suggest different options for you. Do feel free to keep us posted on what evolves. Continue to work as if you owned your company. Demonstrate you are committed to good sense, good will and good character. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

Follow up response:

Thank you for your prompt reply to my query. My superiors initially said that they would let it go but things have turned for the worse. Apparently, the person was up for termination but when she was informed this, she insisted that it was the harassment she experienced that made her perform poorly. I don’t know if they did fire her, but I was summoned by our head office and was advised that she brought up serious charges against me. During my talk with our company lawyer, I was told that he believes the communication or emails that were sent to the girl were harmless but could be misconstrued and used against me. I strongly believe that the girl was terminated though I have yet to confirm this. I was told that they would interview people at my office regarding my behaviour but I am confident that this would turn out positively. I am constantly worried about being unemployed so I started calling people for work and I have a few people interested in taking me. What should I do for now? Aside from looking for work , I don’t know what to do. Thank you for your help! Response by Tina Lewis Rowe Let me reiterate that we are not lawyers and do not have legal training in this area. What we can offer is some reasonable advice based on experience and what we know to have been effective in similar situations.

I can well imagine how frightening this situation is and I hope it is resolved soon. But don’t despair yet! The purpose of an investigation is to find out the facts. If, as you say, you have not had any inappropriate interactions or communications with the employee since you were promoted to your current position, that will be shown. And, the statements by your coworkers will support that the two of you have been long-time friends.

It may be that your company has some specific rule or policy but you likely know that and would know if you had violated it.

Keep in mind that those who were involved in the termination or demotion of the employee are probably well aware that people in those situations look for others to blame. So, this type of scenario isn’t uncommon. The company must investigate, of course. But that doesn’t mean an automatic discipline or dismissal for you, if you have not violated a major rule.

So, wait to find out the results of the investigation, as difficult as that will be. If you have any information to give to the investigators make sure you do so. Don’t leave anything out and don’t try to protect your former friend. The investigators will bring it all together and someone in HR or at a higher level will look at it and consider the merit of the accusation when balanced with other information.

I know it’s easy for me to say all of that, but you are the one waiting this out. However, that’s all you can do at this point. This is when you need to use and show your inner strength.

Best wishes to you through this. Let us know what develops. Follow Up: Cleared of Sexual Harassment Charges I was finally cleared of the sexual harassment charge. I was told that I would be on suspension for one week, but only after a day, I was called back. I did sign a disciplinary action form that mentions I would be terminated the next time something like this happens. The girl was terminated and my superiors expect her to sue. I am so happy that everyone in my office signed a petition in my favor and some of my superiors wrote letters to corporate praising my performance over the years and that they never saw any harassment occur in the office. My final question would be, what now? If she does sue, what would my involvement be? Can I breathe a sigh of relief now? Thank you for all your help. Signed, Feeling Better

Answer: Dear Feeling Better: As we always mention, we aren’t attorneys so we have no legal training about these issues. We are able to give reasonable advice about most workplace issues, which is what we tried do to in your situation. I’m glad the matter was resolved favorably for you.

If the former employee decides to sue she will most likely be suing your employer because that would be the entity that could pay damages if she was successful in court. There attorneys will handle the matter and will work with you if you have to testify. They may settle with her in some way to avoid any of that. Whatever they do, I’m sure you’ll be kept informed when it is happening.

If I may add some advice now that this has calmed down a bit:

1.) Continue to refrain from talking about this except as needed. Some employees may want to bring up the subject, joke about it or say negative things about the former employee. Don’t do it! Have a few set phrases you can say, such as, “I’m just glad it’s over and we can put our focus back on work.” Or, “I’m sorry it happened and I’m glad we can stop talking about it and get back to work.” Or, “I don’t know why Mary did what she did but I think the worst is over now and I’m happy to get back to work.”

2.) I don’t think you need to feel paranoid about the issue, but remember that some employees may be more likely to notice what you do and say to women than they did before. You certainly don’t want any further problems from a disgruntled employee.

3.) You may want to thank a few people for their support. Do that without sounding bitter over what has happened. Just tell them that recent events help you realize how important professional colleagues and friends are. Best wishes to you in the future. It’s obvious that you are valued by many others at your work–which is more than many people can say!

Tina Lewis Rowe



William Gorden