Are Sexual Harassment Investigations Confidential?

It is common for a victim of sexual harassment to be hesitant to come forward with an accusation due to privacy concerns. If you experience sexual harassment at work, for example, you may be leery of reporting it for fear of retaliation in the workplace, such as a demotion or hostility from the offender. You may also worry about confidentially as someone accused of sexual harassment at work due to the ramifications it could have on your personal and professional life. Confidentiality is sometimes available in these cases – but it is not a guarantee.

Can You Keep Your Identity Confidential During a Sexual Harassment Investigation?

The answer is: it depends. First, check the policies at your place of employment. Your employer or the human resources department should have clear rules regarding anonymity and confidentiality during sexual harassment reports. Most organizations promise to maintain confidentiality in these matters or they have the accuser sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to reach a settlement. In some situations, however, anonymity cannot be guaranteed. Staff at the office may conduct an investigation that unintentionally exposes the accuser’s identity, for example, or eyewitnesses might talk with others about what’s going on after giving interviews.

If you are nervous about your confidentiality during a sexual harassment investigation due to concerns regarding retaliation, it is important to realize that you are protected by state and federal laws from retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment or participating in a related investigation. This means that your employer cannot take adverse employment action against you for coming forward with a sexual harassment complaint. If you do experience any negative outcomes, you have the right to file a retaliation lawsuit against the company in pursuit of financial recompense.

What if You Are the One Accused of Sexual Harassment?

Unfortunately, if someone accuses you of sexual harassment at work and it turns into an investigation, there is no reliable way to protect your identity. There are no laws protecting the identities of those who are accused of sexual harassment or assault. Despite the system of “innocent until proven guilty,” the identities of the accused are often available to the public. You may be terminated from your job, for instance, due to an accusation of sexual harassment even without further investigation. However, each case is unique.

Some workplaces have rules in place protecting the confidentiality of both the accuser and the accused during sexual harassment investigations in an effort to avoid further complaints and exposure. If you are found not guilty of an accusation of sexual harassment, you may be able to file a claim for defamation (libel or slander) against your accuser. This can help you obtain public recognition of your innocence regarding the crimes entered against you to clear your name and reputation. It could also result in monetary compensation for related inconvenience, humiliation and financial losses, such as the loss of your job.

Confidentiality During Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

If a sexual harassment complaint is entered with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you can rest assured that the EEOC will keep all sensitive information confidential, with the exception that it must give the name of the person filing the charge to the employer to start an investigation. While information about the investigation and complaint will be shared with the parties involved, it will never be shared with the public.

If a sexual harassment case goes to trial, the confidentiality rules will depend on the case. In many scenarios, a sexual harassment lawyer can protect the identity of a plaintiff (the filing party) during a lawsuit. Again, however, the identity of the defendant is generally available to the public. There are exceptions if a non-disclosure agreement has been signed by the victim of sexual harassment, which would keep the identity of the accused anonymous. For more information about confidentiality in your specific sexual harassment case or investigation, contact an attorney near you.