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My friend Bob and his co-worker Alice where walking down the hallway of the building at work. Their workplace is very professional and so is their work relationship.

Unfortunately, there was nobody in the hallway at the time. After a week, Bob got called to HR and was being accused of harassing Alice down the hallway. I know my friend Bob if very professional and would never do something like that, but what could he do to prove himself innocent? Please help.

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    While I don't agree with the original close reason, I do think some details are lacking to give a good answer; specifically, what was Bob accused of exactly? What did he do in the alleged "sexual harassment" claim? – Martin Tournoij Nov 9 '18 at 11:52
  • @MartinTournoij Or, perhaps, "What is it claimed he did (to constitute sexual harassment)", or "Was there anything he did do, that is being seen as sexual harassment". – TripeHound Nov 9 '18 at 11:55
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    I am very confused by: "sexually harassing Alice down the stairs". Was it verbal? Touching? Just walking down stairs is not harassing. – Pete B. Nov 9 '18 at 15:04
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    This question, which started as a sexual harrassment accusation in a back stairway is now a religuous harrasment question in a hallway. Something not right with the edits. – Laconic Droid Nov 11 '18 at 16:47
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The usual response would be for Bob to write down his version of the events, send it to whoever investigates the matter and request that it will be added to his personal file together with the results of the investigation.

Bob might want to pay for legal assistance when writing his statement, depending on how much he wants to keep his job, how strict the company is about sexual harassment and how likely it is in his country that he might also become the target of a criminal investigation because of the incident.

There are three possible things which could have happened. Bob's strategy should depend on which of these is the case:

  • Bob is being framed by Alice. This is something which happens a lot less often than some people claim. Contrary to what... certain circles... seem to believe, women usually do not go around and accuse men of sexual harassment just out of pure boredom and spite. Taking the step to accuse someone of harassment is difficult. It also bears some risk for Alice, because she might become the target of victim-blaming, victim-shaming and losing reputation because nobody believes her. In the unlikely case that this is actually what happened here, Bob might want to deny and look for motives why Alice would go to these lengths just to harm him.
  • He is actually guilty and intentionally harassed Alice. In this case, Bob needs to make a moral decision and decide what kind of person he wants to be.

    • The smart but unethical move would be to deny, act as if he is being framed and hope they don't believe Alice. It is a he-said-she-said situation, so just as he can not prove his innocence, Alice can not prove his guilt.
    • The super evil move would be to try to capitalize on the situation. He offers his resignation, but demands a huge severance in exchange for assisting with sweeping the incident under the rug. No company wants to get an image of being an unsafe place for women, so paying both sides off in a sexual assault investigation isn't unheard of. When this happens, then the "Bob" is usually someone who has powerful friends in the company who like him too much to just cut him off but don't like him so much that they are willing to sacrifice the reputation of the company for him.
    • The ethical move would be to admit guilt, offer an apology, promise to work on his behavior and offer his resignation.

    Whether to do the right move to restore his moral integrity or the right move to further his own goals would be a personal decision for Bob.

  • It was a stupid misunderstanding. Bob did or said something which he considered normal but Alice interpreted as sexual harassment. In that case the best move would be to seek a dialog with Alice and try to clear up that misunderstanding. Bob should explain what he did and what he meant with it. Bob should keep in mind that misunderstandings are often the fault of both sides. So Bob should go into this dialog with an attitude that he might have miscommunicated, that he wants to learn from Alice what his mistake was and what kind of behavior he should avoid in the future. Such a dialog should happen with a neutral party present so both Alice and Bob feel safe during this dialog.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 10 '18 at 22:11
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The following assumes Bob didn't do anything he should not have done.

I think Bob should ask for a detailed written report of Alice's accusation. Then he can study this in details and then he can chose to react.

I think Bob should not just go ahead and tell his version of the events. Because he could easily forget parts or describe them in a way which leaves them open to interpretation, etc.

There is a reason for the Miranda warning: "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." And I like to add: It's even worse in the "public" opinion.

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Assuming that Bob is innocent (I know, shocking these days, isn't it?)

Bob should take time off immediately to speak to a lawyer about this.

He should say NOTHING to HR without a his lawyer present, or conferenced in. Not a word to Alice, HR, coworkers or anyone else about this, not even to protest his innocence.

He needs to get a good employment lawyer versed in the laws of his state. His lawyer should then obtain a copy of the company's policy regarding such matters.

Things will likely get unpleasant and aggressive. If this is baseless, Alice will likely lose her job for filing a false complaint, so prepare him for that.

He needs to act fast to protect his reputation. He may be done at this company. A lawyer may negotiate severance and a quashing of the accusation in exchange for not suing the company for a false accusation.

Bob needs to be ready to go to the mat to defend himself. It's going to be ugly no matter what happens.

  • Question: does immediately "lawyering up" send an implicit signal of guilt? – Chris Nov 13 '18 at 19:47
  • @Chris - No it sends a sign that you are serious about defending yourself against the claim. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 14 '18 at 14:28
  • @Chris it sends a signal that you are not going to allow yourself to be steamrollered. – Retired Codger Nov 14 '18 at 14:31
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Bob's attorney should write an appropriate response letter to be added to the personnel file.

If HR wishes to discuss the matter, then Bob, Alice, and Bob's attorney should be sitting in that office together.

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    Why should Alice's attorney not be included? – a CVn Nov 12 '18 at 16:20
  • @aCVn: Mike never suggested that Alice's attorney shouldn't be present. But that is not Bob's call. – TonyK Nov 12 '18 at 18:46
  • Precisely. (Thank you.) And one would hope that Alice had consulted with her legal professional before making her claim. Although sexual abuse absolutely is not(!) "anything that either male or female should tolerate," the present legal situation has definitely become altered by the [apparent ... but, let you alone decide] recent experiences of Judge/Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Alice would have been well-advised to engage an attorney first – before proceeding, without fear, with her claims "if(!) they be true." For, if they be false, she could now suffer grave consequences. – Mike Robinson Nov 12 '18 at 20:02
  • @aCVn it's not Bob's job to provide a noose to hang him with. – Retired Codger Nov 12 '18 at 20:32
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    @MikeRobinson The company is not going to require Alice to get a lawyer, and it would be a sad state if you needed a lawyer to file a complaint inside the company. Assuming Alice is not completely making this up, it's highly unlikely that anything will be proven against her. BTW, the #metoo movement predates the Kavanaugh hearings by over a year, minimum. – David Thornley Nov 13 '18 at 17:27

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