“Mistryst”–My Husband’s Accused of Sexual Harassment

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about probable firing of her husband accused of sexual harassment:

My husband has had a complaint of sexual harassment against him; this occurred 2 years ago. The scenario is that after a drunken night out with co-workers while in Japan, he took one of the woman back to his room. When he got there, he realized it was a mistake, but by this time the woman had missed her train and they spent the night together but both claim nothing happened, he says. I don’t know if I believe this. My husband was reprimanded by the company for this.We are now living in another country; however, this woman has again gone to HR claiming that this night with my husband is still affecting her mentally. It now looks like my husband will lose his job over this. Can he be fired for something that happened 2 years ago and that he was already reprimanded for. And why should he be the only one punished? She went willingly. Can I sue her for pain and suffering this has caused me?

Signed-It Should Be Over

Dear It Should Be Over:

Yes, this two year ago “mistryst” should be forgotten, but it is not! Yet both you and this coworker of your husband report remembering it painfully. And the belated coworker complaint of sexual harassment affecting her mentally possibly resulting in the firing of your husband, undoubtedly, is distressing him. I coined the word “mistryst” because that best describes what happened. If the night had gone well, tryst would be its appropriate description because tryst is defined as a trusting agreement between two in a love-making arrangement.

You ask three questions: Can he be fired for this “mistryst” for which he has already been reprimanded? Why should he be the only one punished? And can I sue her for pain and suffering this has caused me? Before I respond to these questions, if you read the prelude to submitting a question, you should understand that we address matters of workplace communication, not legal. Therefore, should the company charge your husband with sexual harassment as a reason to fire him, it might be wise for you and your husband  to consult an attorney, or if you and your husband are at at odds you two would be wise to separately consult attorneys.

With that in mind, I will provide communication-related remarks you can consideration to each of your questions. They are made with empathy for the pain you have suffered and with the hope you might better cope. I say this because apparently you are living with with mistrust of your husband (“I don’t know if I believe this.”)
1. Can he be fired for this “mistryst” for which he has already been reprimanded? Yes, he can be fired accused for sexual harassment or for no reason just as he can quit unless he is working under a contract that rules such matters are settled after a reprimand. What evolves from this woman’s recent complaint likely will hinge on the professional value your husband has earned with his company and with its culture. After two years, one incident of sexually-related misconduct (now called sexual harassment) should not reflect on your husband if he has had no continuing contact with this coworker. Nevertheless, can he be fired? Possibly.  It is possible that firing him could serve as an example to demonstrate that this company has zero tolerance for mistreatment of women.

  1. Why should he be the only one punished? Whether your husband was the only one punished for the one-night “sleepover”, it likely in part hinged on if your husband ranked above and/or was senior in age to this woman. Also it may hinge on who reported the drunken night together and who was considered to be the initiator of it. That kind of information probably was not disclosed at the time of reprimand. Assuming you have the correct impression that you husband was the only one disciplined, you will continue to feel it was unfair.
  2. And can I sue her for pain and suffering this has caused me? Yes, you can sue, but I predict most reputable lawyers will discourage you from that. Rather, I expect you will be advised for the sake of your marriage to allow the past to be past. Depending on if you and your husband can do that is probably what really matter most now.

Please feel free to tell me if any of these remarks make sense to your particular situation. I know only you can resolve how to best cope. Surviving this likely has not been a walk in the park although that might help. I expect this complaint of sexual harassment after two years has caused the  “I don’t know if I believe this” to echo like a broken record in your head. Perhaps you can find a counselor to aid in coping. Hopefully, now openly acknowledging this echoing disbelief to your husband and assurance of his understanding and love will enable you both to cope with whatever happens. Living together like working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden

FOLLOW UP: Thank you very much for getting back to me and for answering my questions, all your comments make sense I think I’m finding it hard to deal with because I only found out about this 5 days ago. My husband kept it from me previously and only told me now because there is a good chance he will be fired. Once again thank you. Regards