How to Move Forward: For the Harasser
There is a remaining player in a sexual harassment claim who also needs to deal with the case's outcome--the harasser. Just as moving on can be a time for healing and learning for businesses and victims, so can it be for the aggressors of sexual harassment. While you may question or disagree with that, it is best to keep in mind that not all accused harassers intentionally harass their victims or are fully aware of the extent of their actions. Even those who did know what they were doing and that it was wrong still deserve a chance to change themselves for the better, don't they? Nothing can improve regarding sexual harassment if change does not happen, no matter who it is that initiates that change.
Adhering to the Outcome of Case Proceedings
In some cases, the business and the harasser may be one in the same or held at fault together in the sexual harassment claim. What eventually happens depends on the details of the situation and the circumstances that happen outside of the initial harassment, for example, retaliation, response to reporting, etc. Should the harasser be found at fault in the proceedings of the case, there may be a few things that they may be ordered to do. Keep in mind that this can include orders from the court system for the outcome of litigation in addition to the investigative outcome of the EEOC. Even though these occur separately and one or both may not even happen in a case, all outcomes from all sources need to be complied with.
The potential outcomes from a sexual harassment claim that a harasser may have to address if they are convicted or found at fault include the following.
Termination -- If you're accused and/or convicted of sexual harassment in the workplace, you could be fired. This isn't going to be a result of any legal charges or convictions, which might actually be considered a form of discrimination, but for violating established policies within the workplace. Termination might not even happen right away since procedure may dictate that warnings, training, etc. occur first before reaching that point. So if things continue to escalate on the accused's side of the situation, termination can occur. A zero-tolerance policy might override that and termination might be an outcome at the close of a formal investigation. Again, it depends on the circumstances.
Restraining Orders -- As mentioned in the previous lesson, restraining orders that prevent further contact between the harasser and the victim are also a possibility. These can be temporary like 10 days or long-term with a specific end with option for renewal. It's a legally binding document that can have severe punishments if it isn't adhered to and those details will be clearly lined out as to what is and isn't considered a breach of the order. This can include "accidental" violations and what actually is considered accidental contact, typically in circumstances that are out of your control. If you're not supposed to be within 100 feet of the other person, for example, but you're in a car accident and the ambulance brings you to the same ER where they are for a broken arm, that might not be considered a breach since it's outside of your control.
Issuing an Apology: The Right Way
Many accused harassers will issue an apology to their accusers and/or victims regardless of whether they admit guilt or profess innocence. In the aftermath of a supported sexual harassment claim, an apology is usually expected as a social nicety. Part of this is because a harasser may not be aware that something they did was wrong or caused harm but still want to do what they can to ease the situation. However, there are those who are aware that what they did was wrong and are issuing an apology to save face in the public eye. Whatever the case may be, many of these apologies tend to sound the same in tone, even in their wording since many are almost total copies of each other. This makes it seem like it's insincere or even fake.
Every legal case carries with it the option to appeal, so long as the person filing the appeal can present a valid reason. As mentioned previously, this typically involves something like legal errors or mishandling rather than just a general dislike for the case not ruling in your favor. For both the EEOC and in the legal system, appeals must be submitted within 30 days of the case's final ruling in order to be considered for appeal. So long as you have a valid reason and act within that time frame, you can file. However, you should still adhere to the original outcomes until the appeal goes through and either a new decision is made or the original is upheld. Failing to do so can still result in legal consequences even if the case is overturned. Any ordered payments that you may have to make can be returned later on and records can be corrected but you can't guarantee that things will go the way you want them to. Attorney and court fees especially need to be paid if you expect your lawyer to continue representing you during your appeal. Do what you need to do and play it safe in the interim.
Impact on Your Professional Career and Reputation
You may be convinced that an accusation of sexual harassment, regardless of if it's fake or if you are convicted of anything, is going to completely destroy your personal and professional lives beyond all repair but here's the thing. That has not been the norm for accused and actual harassers, and anything even remotely close to that hasn't happened until recent events in the public sphere. Whether this is because of the power that many harassers have or the attitudes revolving around sexual harassment, the damage inflicted on harassers is often what is listed at the start of this lesson. The impact that it could have on you professionally might be similar to what was discussed in the previous lesson--changes to your reputation and notations in your personnel file. There may be additional punishments in the workplace, like disciplinary action per company policy, training requirements, or even reassignment or suspension of your position within the company.
Do You Have to Disclose the Harassment to Future Employers? If you're applying for a new job, whether it's just another stage in your career or because you were terminated from your position as punishment, you may wonder if you will need to disclose harassment accusations and/or convictions to a potential employer. NDAs aside, it might be wise to not deny that it happened in a past position. You should not lie about the reasoning tied to your termination, especially if it was why you were fired. But you don't have to go into details about what happened, who was involved, etc. If there were criminal charges filed, you should also not lie or withhold that information as it may appear on a background check.
Choosing to Change Your Ways
After a sexual harassment case has come to a close and the accused is found at fault, they have an opportunity to change their ways and improve themselves for the better. This could simply involve going to counseling and educating yourself about sexual harassment, especially if you did not realize that your actions were considered harassment. In some cases, education and counseling may be something you are ordered to do as a part of the case's outcome. Harassers should also learn how to be accountable for their actions, regardless of if they involve harassment of any kind in order to be more aware of the impact they have on others. Keep in mind that you can't achieve any of this if you do not actively try to do so and put in some real effort.