I work at a small company and a few months ago this incident occurred: I was excited and wanted to quickly show my colleague something who was standing nearby. As what I wanted to show him was important, I gently touched his elbow and hurried him over (with my hand on his arm) to see what I wanted to show him. We were friends or at least friendly with each other and in my mind this was a totally normal level of physical contact for the situation. I completely forgot about this until about a week later, I was informed that he had filed an official complaint of physical harassment. Long story short, we went through some official mediation and everything worked out "fine". There was also security footage of the incident which we weren't allowed to see. Needless to say, we aren't too cordial anymore but things are overall OK.

Later one of his friends in the office make a subtle joke/snide remark about it at a company wide meeting. I was pretty shocked and said nothing at the time but I'm wondering how I should have handled the situation and how I should going forward.

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    You refer to the font of all wisdom: John Wayne. "I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." – Wesley Long Jun 3 '18 at 1:07
  • "how I should have handled the situation" - why, do you expect it to recur? "and how I should going forward", ignore it, and it will be forgotten – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jun 3 '18 at 7:13
  • Are you certain that it only happened once? Not trying to pick at you - just because if you think it's normal you probably won't recall doing it, whereas if it bothers your colleague they're much more likely to remember each instance. – Rosemary7391 Jun 5 '18 at 9:52

First: The legal definition "harassment" is the occurrence of two or more instances of conduct which causes a reasonable person to feel threatened, annoyed, distressed, etc. Your matter was a one-time "issue", and it falls short of meeting the definition of harassment. Therefore, it was inadequate for the company to give much importance to the so-called "official complaint".

Second: Ask HR for a copy of your personnel file. Many -if not all- states have a statute entitling the employee to obtain a copy from his or her employer. Since the company deemed this matter important enough to involve mediation, most likely it documented the "incident" in your file. If by scrutinizing your file you detect any material inaccuracies, request (preferably in writing) that it be corrected.

Third: Make a written request (either by email or have them sign a receipt-copy) for "preservation of records" in reference to the security footage and any records currently not released to you. Be as specific as possible in identifying such records. These requests are also known as "litigation hold" and, to avoid any "adverse inference of fact", it is in the other's best interest to comply with the request.

Fourth: Jokes or comments may falsely impute statements of fact, at which point we are talking about defamation. It will be important to ascertain who is spreading falsehoods and assess whether a defamation lawsuit proceeds; some comments are "defamatory per se" and therefore no damages need to be proved. What matters is not so much whether the statement is framed with opinion, but whether it conveys "facts" with enough specificity that amounts to defamatory falsehoods.

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    5) Apply for a new job, because it will be an extremely hostile environment after attempting to sue your colleague for defamation. – user81330 Jun 4 '18 at 11:15
  • @Bilkokuya: I wouldn't suggest that Bob sue right off the bat. That would be intemperate and ill-fated. But it is a good idea to somehow secure evidence in case the issue escalates. After all, the company showed its incompetence by how it handled the frivolous complaint. What if the colleague eventually files in court a frivolous petition for restraining order? – Iñaki Viggers Jun 4 '18 at 19:33

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