Being the victim of sexual harassment can be emotionally - or even physically - traumatizing. Not only does someone have to endure the offensive harassment, but then they also will likely have to participate in a detailed investigation into the harassment complaint. Investigations can be performed by HR or outside investigators, and they will have many questions for the complaining victim.
Many people put off complaining of sexual harassment because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves or reveal what happened. The last thing they might want is for their name and story to be spread around in and out of the company. For this reason, the question of confidentiality during the investigation and the resulting case can be a critical one.
On the other hand, people accused of sexual harassment might also place great weight on confidentiality. This is especially true if they didn’t realize their conduct was harassing or they believe they were wrongfully accused. People on both sides likely want to keep the case quiet to minimize any impact on their future careers or lives in general.
If you come forward and complain of sexual harassment, your company should take the matter very seriously and launch a full investigation in line with company policy. The investigation should aim to uncover all relevant facts, as well as to identify the best method of stopping the harassment.
The investigator should always try to maintain strict confidentiality whenever possible, though it will be necessary to disclose certain pieces of information to certain parties. For example, they will need to inform the accused of the accusation and how it arose. They will also need to interview witnesses who might have information about the harassment, and these witnesses will need to know the context of the questioning.
All of this being said, there is no excuse for company representatives to spread information about the victims or harasser outside of the scope of the investigation. In this case, the people involved might be able to take legal action.
If you suffered sexual harassment, it can be wise to consult with a workplace sexual harassment attorney who can protect your rights. While it might be nerve-wracking to tell your story to a stranger, rest assured that there are strict confidentiality requirements for attorneys. Attorney-client privilege covers you even before you agree to representation, as attorneys must keep information from prospective clients confidential, as well as current clients. Your attorney should know how to file a case in court without fully disclosing all of your information to the public, as well.
While you cannot expect for no one to ever know who complained of harassment, maintaining confidentiality during your case should be a priority for your employer and investigators. Further, you can be certain that a trusted attorney will never reveal any personal details about your sexual harassment case. Don’t let fears regarding confidentiality stop you from acting and standing up against sexual harassment.