Companies crackdown on inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- In the wake of a seemingly endless stream of high profile figures accused of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior in the workplace, some may wonder if mere accusations are enough to get someone fired.

It takes more than allegations alone to cause an accused co-worker to lose his or her job.

From Bill O'Reilly to Charlie Rose and now Matt Lauer, many high-profile people recently have lost their jobs to accusations of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior.

Alternative HR human resources consultant Jennifer Raschke said "likely it's in the company's best interest to either impose some type of training, or to terminate the individual depending on the severity of the accusations."

Attorney Larry Weisberg said "the primary responsibility, once they get a complaint like this, is to obviously take it seriously, but also to conduct an investigation."

Raschke explained what evidence a company may seek when the burden of proof is often difficult for an accuser to provide.

"There may be text messages, or emails that would help to help substantiate and document inappropriate conversations, jokes, or things that would be off-color," Raschke said.

Weisberg, who specializes in representing victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, recognizes the motives of the accuser also may be investigated.

"Part of our job as lawyers is to try to gauge someone's credibility, to try to see whether this story makes sense," Weisberg said.

"It can be difficult, if it's the proverbial 'he said, she said.' Ultimately you get down to a 'trier of fact,' whether it's a judge or jury. They're going to see who they believe," Weisberg added.

"You can look as well if there have been multiple complaints against someone, sort of the old adage 'if there's smoke, there's probably fire,' so if you're having multiple complaints about someone, that can help," Raschke said.

Weisberg said there are times when it may be a good idea to contact a lawyer before going to human resources.

"In certain situations, there are steps that an employee needs to take, and in some instances, it's actually required that the employee put the employer on notice of the situation, before the employer can be liable for it," Weisberg said.

It makes some wonder just how easy is it to fire someone based on allegations of sexual misconduct. Unless protected by a union or contract,  in Pennsylvania, most employment is primarily 'at will.'

"So, if the employer decides to terminate someone because of sexual misconduct allegations, sexual harassment allegations, for the most part, in Pennsylvania, the employer has the right to do that," Weisberg said.

"When they are taking those steps, they've done the proper investigative procedures. They're making the right move for their employees and their company," Raschke said.

Allegations don't always end with a company firing the accused employee.

"As long as the employer sections it off and makes sure this doesn't happen anymore, and that the employee isn't retaliated against, the employer is actually just charging their responsibility under the law," Weisberg said.

"Where it will end? I would say hopefully with companies and employees in the company, treating each other with respect," Raschke said.