As we all know, sexual harassment in the 21st-century workplace happens far too frequently. And as many suspect, false accusations of sexual harassment also happen far too frequently.

Sexual harassment at the workplace takes a number of forms. Unwelcome advances, sexual bribery, questionable jokes, offensive pictures or emails, and discussions of sexual topics may all constitute sexual harassment. Can a sexual harassment law firm in San Francisco help?

IS THERE ANY PROTECTION FOR THOSE WHO ARE FALSELY ACCUSED?

A variety of both state and federal laws protect those who bring sexual harassment accusations, but is there any protection for those who are falsely accused? You may be surprised to learn that there are no laws to protect those who have been accused of sexual harassment.

The justice system still holds to the principle that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but employers are not bound by that principle, and for some employers, employees under investigation for sexual harassment are guilty until proven innocent.

At some corporations and businesses, merely being accused of sexual harassment can lead to termination. If this happens to you in the state of California, you must discuss your situation and your options with an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney.

FALSELY ACCUSED? WRONGLY TERMINATED? WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS?

Although a falsely accused and wrongly terminated employee may take legal action against the accuser for defamation, if the accusing party is not affluent, such action may be futile.

A falsely accused and terminated employee’s next option is determining if the employer has violated that employee’s rights. An employment rights attorney can review your case and determine if what has happened to you constitutes legally actionable wrongful termination.

In California, most employer-employee relationships are “at-will” relationships. Either party may end the relationship with or without cause or notice unless an employment contract sets other conditions or terms. However, employers may only fire employees for reasons that are legal.

WHAT CAN CONSTITUTE WRONGFUL TERMINATION?

You cannot be legally fired for filing a worker’s comp claim, a discrimination claim, or a sexual harassment claim. If you’re accused of harassment – or of something like theft – you can’t be fired simply because you have been accused of wrongdoing if there is no evidence against you.

If you’ve been wrongly – meaning illegally – terminated from your employment in the state of California, and you are able to prove it with an employment lawyer’s assistance, you could be awarded financial compensation and even reinstated at your job.

WHAT DAMAGES ARE AVAILABLE TO WRONGFUL TERMINATION VICTIMS?

Three kinds of damages (compensation awards) are available in California to an employee who prevails with a wrongful termination claim:

1. Economic damages are what you would have earned if you had not been fired illegally.
2. Non-economic damages compensate you for pain, suffering, and emotional distress.
3. Punitive damages are intended to deter future wrongful terminations by the employer.

Wrongful termination is unjust and illegal. It’s a serious violation of your rights. If you don’t find other work quickly, you may be unable to pay bills and fulfill your responsibilities – all because your employer believed a false accusation and acted illegally.

WHAT WILL YOUR ATTORNEY NEED?

If you choose to pursue legal action after a wrongful termination, your lawyer will need evidence: letters, emails, the sworn statements of witnesses – anything that might help to prove your wrongful termination claim.

An employment rights attorney could also subpoena the employer’s relevant personnel files and internal documents. If you signed an employment contract, an employment lawyer can determine if your termination violated the contract’s conditions and terms.

WHAT’S BEST FOR EMPLOYERS?

For employers, it is best to establish and pursue a policy of confidentiality regarding internal investigations into sexual harassment complaints. As an employer, if someone is guilty, you want to hold that person accountable and avoid a lawsuit – from either the accuser or the accused.

When an employer conducts this kind of internal investigation, it should be conducted – or at least overseen – by an employment attorney to ensure that no one’s rights are violated and that all aspects of the investigation are compliant with the law.

An internal investigation, conducted confidentially, should establish whether or not sexual harassment, in fact, took place. The attorney conducting or overseeing the investigation can then determine if the employer has any liability for the sexual harassment – if it happened.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF CONDUCTING AN INTERNAL INVESTIGATION?

For employers, internal investigations are often an effective way to:

1. resolve problems such as claims of sexual harassment
2. determine how policies and procedures may need to be reconsidered
3. avoid lawsuits

But employers who are conducting internal investigations must be cautious. It is genuinely imperative to put an employment attorney in charge. Without an attorney’s oversight, not only the legality but also the efficacy of your investigation and its findings may be challenged.

IF YOU’RE AN EMPLOYER, HOW CAN A LAWYER HELP?

Employment attorneys can provide employers with the prudent and sensible legal advice that can keep a workplace problem from becoming a courtroom problem.

Handled improperly, employment disputes can be calamitous for employers. But dealt with properly, the dispute may become an opportunity for reassessing an employer’s practices and policies as well as an opportunity to deal with often-unspoken, underlying concerns.

There may be no perfect solution for employees or employers who are accused of sexual harassment – or for its real victims. However, if you’re an employer who is concerned about the best way to handle these matters, you should have an employment attorney’s insights and advice.

In today’s business environment, employers must have sound and reliable legal advice. A good employment lawyer can offer employers advice on employee contracts and discipline, personnel policies and practices, internal investigations, and the entire range of employment law issues.

IF YOU’RE AN EMPLOYEE, HOW CAN AN ATTORNEY HELP?

If you’re an employee who has been wrongly accused of sexual harassment, and if you’ve been fired, or if you’re concerned about confidentiality and how your employer is handling an internal investigation, speak at once to an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney.

Nothing is a higher priority than your rights, your job, and your future. If you have been wrongly accused of sexual harassment – or if you are a victim of wrongful termination – a good employment lawyer’s help is your right.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.