I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this one lately, as I am in the middle of a big anti-harassment training project. I’ve heard from a couple of participants that they were the subject; others have asked if it could happen and what they can do about it. In my experience investigating harassment complaints, it does happen, but not very often. And just to be clear, by “false allegations” I mean someone intentionally making a story up out of whole cloth, not just a simple misunderstanding, as often happens in the world of harassment.
So what are steps employers and individuals can take to mitigate the risk? Train on appropriate workplace behavior and make sure everyone in the workforce understands how to stay out of the looming “gray zone” of behavior. There’s obviously behavior that is perfectly fine. At the other end of the spectrum there is behavior that is clearly a no-no. In the middle is most of the stuff that makes up harassment claims. By steering clear of that ambiguous zone, individuals can dramatically reduce the likelihood of getting hit with the “h” word. In addition, the specter of false allegations is one more reason it’s critical to conduct thorough investigations and not to just take anyone’s say-so.