Rights of Those Accused of Sexual Harassment

By Thomas McKinney

Harassment due to sex or sexual orientation is illegal due to both Federal and State laws in New Jersey. Nearly all employees have policies in place that provide guidelines that:

  • Prohibit sexual harassment.
  • Provide channels to report and investigate sexual harassment claims.
  • Requires action for violations of policy including termination.
  • Encourage victims of harassment to come forward.

What If The Harassment Violation is False?

Being accused can have serious consequences. Employers often take no action against someone who was falsely accused and, in some cases, can take adverse action against the accuser. With the rise of #metoo employers have been very wary of taking the chance that the accusation if false since it can later hurt them if the case goes to trial. As such, employers have often chosen to fire the accused since they have limited rights under law and very few options on challenging their termination.

Do I Have Rights If I’m Wrongfully Accused?

There are no laws prohibiting an employer from firing you as long as that reason is not illegal under state or federal laws. As at-will employees your employer can fire you at any time for any legal reason even if they only suspect you’ve acted inappropriately. If you feel you’ve been terminated due to other possible illegal reasons you should contact a lawyer to discuss specifics.

What Should Employers Consider After Reports of Sexual Harassment

The accused has the same rights as the accuser to work in a discrimination free environment. Employers are prohibited from taking corrective action on the accused than someone outside their protected class. For example if a hispanic worker is punished more harshly than someone else of another nationality for the same offense the employer runs the risk of being viewed as discriminatory and may be liable.

Employers should also conduct a thorough investigation of the situation to determine what transpired if possible. If the employer ends up in court this will likely come up and all details should be made available.

Employers will often accept that the allegations of sexual harassment are true on good faith. Employers need to fully understand and investigate the claims before making any employment decisions. If the case does end up in court, the jury will decide whether the employee was treated fairly under law and whether his or her termination was the result of retaliation or discrimination.

Employers also may not defame employees. They should take care not to publish any information about the employee that can be perceived as false or relay information about the case to people who are not directly involved with the incident.

They are also prohibited from performing 3rd party background checks on their employees without their consent.

What To Do If You’re Wrongly Accused of Sexual Harassment?

If you find yourself in this difficult situation you should:

  • Hire an experienced harassment attorney.
  • Demand an investigation of your case.
  • Request evidence to support the claims against you.
  • Request all information be disclosed only to individuals who are required to know.

Contact Castronovo & McKinney for a free consultation. Our team of dedicated Sexual Harassment Attorneys have handled hundreds of cases involving sexual harassment claims.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is an experienced NJ Employment Lawyer in all major areas of labor and employment law, including discrimination, harassment, overtime violations, wage and hour claims, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, LAD, FLSA, and all other employment law claims. Tom is admitted to practice in the States of New Jersey and New York, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York, District of New Jersey, and United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prior to forming the firm, Tom practiced at Gibbons P.C. in Newark, NJ. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Tom here today.