my coworker was arrested for a horrifying crime and is returning to work

A reader writes:

I work with a person who has been charged with making and distributing child pornography. He was arrested at work and taken into custody. His belongings and computer were seized. The arrest has received local media coverage.

It looks like he’ll be back at work shortly while awaiting a court date. Is there a right way to handle his return to work? Is there something to say or not say?

I wish there were a strong but non-profane expression of revulsion for me to write here. I can’t think of a clean one.

In any case, on one hand, he’s innocent until proven guilty — and could very well turn out to be innocent; that happens.

On the other hand, this is such a noxious crime that, if he’s guilty, shunning is a perfectly reasonable option. And if he’s not guilty, he’d probably understand the shunning until he’s absolved of guilt.

I think you’ve got to just follow your own conscience here.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 316 comments… read them below }

    1. AMT*

      Another social worker here. I work in a forensic setting and have assisted in the legal defense of two child sex offenders in the past couple of months. Even I wouldn’t feel okay around a coworker who made child porn. Dealing with in the course of my work is one thing; knowing that about one of my coworkers is another.

  1. badger_doc*

    Please make sure no children ever come into your workplace. We have our coworkers’ kids come in all the time and I could not imagine knowing a potential child pornographer would be seeing them. That is horrifying–I’m so sorry you have to deal with that.

    1. MaggietheCat*

      I would also think employees that have children’s/family photos at their desks would want to take them home. I wouldn’t want anyone leering at them over my desk!

  2. Elizabeth*

    Going just what on the OP said, my impression is that the OP doesn’t work super-closely with this person, nor were they particular buddies before this happened. (The OP could have left that out, but just “I work with…” doesn’t connote an especially close working relationship.)

    Given that it IS possible that he’s innocent, I feel that the best course of action is just to be professional and interact with him normally about work matters. You would not be condoning child porn by being civil, only condoning civility.

    1. Mike C.*

      I agree with this. You aren’t causing harm by remaining professional, and if this person is innocent you’ll be glad you did. If this person is guilty, then you won’t have to worry about it.

      Best of luck, this is a really tough situation.

    2. TheOriginalVagabond*

      Personally I’d rather wait for the confirmation of innocence than be civil no matter what. I’m not saying I’d hurl insults at the guy or anything, but I’d have a very difficult time hiding my revulsion.

      1. Mike C.*

        You don’t get “confirmation of innocence” because one cannot prove a negative. One can only assume innocence until shown otherwise. Otherwise we all would need to be constantly proving that we aren’t guilty of any number of crimes.

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          There is also a difference between not-guilty and innocent. Not-guilty doesn’t necessarily mean they are innocent.

          1. Cautionary tail*


            It is possible to prove innocence however it is a much higher barrier than to prove not guilty based on the evidence/testimony/etc…which could still mean guilty, just not proven guilty. I’ve heard of people who have gone this extra mile to completely clear there name,

            1. fposte*

              Not sure what methodology you’re thinking of there–there’s no legal verdict of “innocence” in the US.

              1. KayDay*

                I believe that if a conviction is reversed, that is considered being “proved innocent” or whatever, because the burden of proof shifts to the defendant. (note: all my legal knowledge comes from law and order and CNN, so take anything I say with a grain of salt.)

                1. fposte*

                  Maybe somebody with more experience can chime in, but my impression is even there that the court doesn’t declare the defendant innocent–sometimes the grounds for reversal aren’t even about guilt anyway.

                  And of course if you were found not guilty in the first place, you have no grounds for appeal, so I’m not sure how you’d gain additional clearance–maybe Cautionary tail was talking about something social rather than legal, or someplace other than the US.

                2. JayDee*

                  There is no such thing as “proved innocent” at least in the US. The burden never shifts to the defendant to prove their innocence. The only time the burden of proof is on the defendant is if they argue an affirmative defense, such as self defense. Then the prosecution still has to prove all the aspects of the criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt, but the defendant may still be found not guilty if they prove all the elements of the affirmative defense.

                  I think the issues is that “not guilty” does not mean innocent. People who commit crimes are found not guilty because there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the offense. But if the burden of proof were lower (such as the “more probable than not” standard in civil cases) the evidence would be sufficient. That is why, for example, OJ Simpson was acquitted in his criminal case but still found liable in the civil case. There was enough evidence to say it was more probable than not that he killed Nicole and Ron Goldman, but not enough evidence to say beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it.

                1. fposte*

                  Oh, interesting, thanks. I’m familiar with expungement, which seems to be a part of this, though that’s not necessarily innocence-dependent so it muddies the waters somewhat.

                  KayDay, I bet the post-conviction version of this is what you were talking about, though there are apparently limits on where and how you can file for it.

              2. Anon 1*

                In a criminal case its unconstitutional to shift the burden of proof to the defendant (this is an issue with presumptions). Not guilty doesn’t mean innocent it means “prove your case government.” The government must proof that someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Not guilty means the government couldn’t prove its case on all of the required elements. Even if a conviction is reversed on appeal, it still doesn’t mean you have been proven innocent. Maybe it means there were problems with the jury or the evidence but it doesn’t mean necessarily that you proved you were innocent. Expungement and “proving factual innocence” as someone posted below are outside of the trial process (and as far as I can tell, proving factual innocence only applies in CA).

                To further complicate the matter, it should be noted that if you took a certain action but there is a missing element (such as the requisite intent) you are also not guilty of a crime. For example, larceny requires you have the intent to permanently deprive. If you didn’t intend to permanently deprive then you are not guilty of larceny even though you took someone’s property.

          2. Karen*

            As grotesque as what he is accused of doing is, I agree with Elizabeth that you should try to remain professional and civil towards him for now. You still need to work with him – at least until his trial – and there is a chance he is innocent.

            But yikes… that is very tough situation. I’m surprised your bosses and managers didn’t have you all meet about this before his return, since you all know what he’s been accused of, saw him get arrested, and – I imagine – your coworkers all share your uncertainty about how to act around him now.

        2. Kelly O*

          I had a similar incident at my workplace.

          I’m sorry, but I find it difficult to assume innocence when an individual has thousands of graphic, pornographic images involving children on his (or her) computer. Particularly when the news report mentions it appears efforts were made to hide it.

          I did not engage this person, I did not speak to this person, and the context of my job did not involve interaction with this person. However you can bet your shiny metal rear that the day I saw him in HR, I walked away, came to my desk, and removed every family picture I had in case they came up to talk about the last check.

          It may not be my place to judge, but it is also not my normal routine to take chances.

          1. PJ*

            Something happened to me that makes me really hesitate to do anything without more info.

            One day at work I was reading the news online — MSN News or ABC News or one of those sites. I clicked on a link to follow a news story, and a bunch of pornography was downloaded to my computer. Horrified, I immediately called my IT person, who told me that there is a virus going around where someone can make pornography download onto your computer when you click an innocent link — he told me it happens about once every 500 clicks or so.

            Whatever. I had this pornography on my desktop that I did not put there. IT deleted it, cleaned my computer, and I swore never to check the news at work again.

            I went immediately to my IT person when this happened, but someone else may have tried to hide it out of embarrassment or fear of retribution from their employer. (And yes, I was mortified!)

            Not saying the OP’s person, or the person in your example is innocent, just saying maybe the full story isn’t out.

            1. Christine*

              He wasn’t charged with possessing, though, he was charged with making and distributing. That’s a whole ‘nother level.

          2. Jazzy Red*

            Kelly, we all make judgements every day, all day long. You’re not judging him in the legal sense, but your good sense tells you that he is not a person you want to be around, or have around your family. (In case you can’t tell, I’m agreeing with you. I can see that I’m not writing this very clearly.)

            Maybe I’ve gone overboard on privacy and security since reading The Gift Of Fear, but I think it’s smart to see the potential danger in all circumstances, and that it’s prudent to take reasonable precautions. It’s like having 9-1-1 on your speed dial – you hope you never have to use it, but you want to make it easy to use it when you need it.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      I totally agree with this. There’s no reason not to be a professional, and OP will be glad she did.

      People are innocent until proven guilty. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

      1. Observer*

        Legally, sure. Practically, no. It’s perfectly legitimate to draw your own conclusions. Especially since what does, and does not, show up in a court is not necessarily about guilt or innocence.

        The problem here is that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of information for the LW to go on. An arrest does NOT necessarily mean guilt – these things really, truly do happen. So, yes, s/he should be professional, until there is enough real information for reasonable people to draw fairly solid conclusions. And, in the meantime, keeps any kids you have anything to do with, away.

    4. Fabulously Anonymous*

      I agree with Elizabeth and Mike. IMO, performing a job requires being civil. It doesn’t require you to be his best buddy, to ask about his weekend or make friendly conversation. But you may have to have professional conversations with him and you want to get through those quickly and with as little drama as possible. Being civil is the best way to achieve that.

      On a side note, I once worked with someone that was also accused of a crime (different, but just as upsetting). I had to work with him for several months until the trial. We all knew, he knew we knew, and the conversations were usually short and to the point. “Can you get me the XYZ figures?” “Here they are Bob.”

      1. Calla*

        I agree with this. OP, I don’t think you have to assume innocent until proven guilty. You’re not the court. And even if he gets off, that doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t do it–so you are entitled to your feelings. However, I don’t think any approach other than basic civility will do any good. But “Civil” doesn’t necessarily mean being nice and carrying on like nothing happened — neutral face, short neutral responses.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yes, everything here. He is innocent until proven guilty in the legal system, but each individual can make their own judgment about him and choices about how to interact with him (as we can with everyone we meet).

      2. Chinook*

        “IMO, performing a job requires being civil. It doesn’t require you to be his best buddy, to ask about his weekend or make friendly conversation.”

        The best advice I was given about dealing with people I don’t like is that I am still required to respect their position even if I detest the guy. His work still needs to be done and the OP’s work presumably either feeds into the suspect or is fed by him, so not interacting with him in a professional (if distant) manner woudl only affect the OP.

        Plus, the rule of law is innocent until proven guilty for a reason. Just because something is on someone’ s computer doesn’t mean they are the ones who put it there – just ask anyone who’s email has been hacked.

        1. Cautionary tail*


          I’ve dealt in HR type investigations where a person’s computer had pornography on it. We went through the process and learned that the intern who used the computer on the day the regular person was out of the office was responsible, not the person who it was assigned to.

          BTW, I’ve been involved in lots of porn investigations and have found everything from animals to grannies. Thankfully all that was legal, inappropriate but legal. I have never had to investigate someone for child porn but I know exactly what I would do in that case, no matter who they are or what position in the company they have.

          1. Former Professional Computer Geek*

            Echo Cautionary Tale — I remember a case where someone had some highly inappropriate images on their computer. It turned out their password was trivially guessable and one of the cleaning people had guessed it. The cleaning person was spending a sizable part of their overnight shift looking at and downloading said images. In this case, time stamps on the files were the key that helped figure it out (and allowed a camera to be set up to catch the person in question).

            1. Office Mercenary*

              There are also all those rumors about people being prosecuted for crimes their neighbors committed over their unsecured wireless connection. How horrible would it be to be accused of abusing children when in fact your neighbor did?

          2. Purr purr purr*

            I had that same issue at work. I was assigned a computer to use for a project but there weren’t enough computers to go around the whole team so we started using them on a rotational basis with the exception of my computer that only I used. However, I took five days of vacation and had to leave my computer behind. During that time, a colleague was told to use my computer and he used it to look at ‘questionable content’ that was ultimately traced back to me since it was ‘my’ computer. It was an incredibly stressful time for me where I denied involvement and could tell that no-one believed me until I asked them what date was shown as the download date; it was while I was away from work. My colleague was fired but the experience scarred me because the insinuation was that because it was mostly ‘my’ laptop, I was guilty, even though others had access. It’s hard to trust a company after that.

    5. Mimmy*

      This is actually a very good point. Sure, I’d feel a little skittish having him in the office again but I think he’d appreciate the same level of professionalism as before the arrest, especially if he is seems like an otherwise good employee (i.e. no skeevy behavior, good performance, etc). However, I completely understand that this is much easier said than done.

    6. LBK*

      Completely agree with this answer. Keep your relationship 100% professional – don’t engage him unnecessarily but don’t freeze him out either.

    7. Turanga Leela*

      “You would not be condoning child porn by being civil, only condoning civility.” This is SUCH a good point.

  3. TheOriginalVagabond*

    Yeah, I think this guy has NO RIGHT to expect a welcoming reception. It’s perfectly understandable that people wouldn’t want to associate with a suspected pedophile!

      1. TheOriginalVagabond*

        Not a party, but he shouldn’t expect that people are gonna act normal and like nothing happened. Pedophilia isn’t a minor charge, and people are naturally going to be very uneasy about it.

        1. This is me*

          Agreed, but treating him like the office pariah is no way to handle this. If he’s found guilty then he’s deplorable, if he’s not then his life going forward will be pretty difficult anyway. But he’s innocent until proven guilty, so treating him with civility for the time being is a good way to go.

        2. Mike C.*

          Sure, they’re going to be uneasy about it, but that shouldn’t prevent coworkers from behaving professionally.

        3. Arbynka*

          I do not think he will be charged with pedophilia. Pedophilia is a disorder, not all pedophiles act on their urges or abuse children. I knew a man back in Europe, who seeked treatment, therapy, medications, then asked to be castrated because he struggled so bad, it was denied, he committed suiced. Rather sad, he was kind, smart guy who did not want to hurt children and controling it just became too much. This man in question will be charged with distribution of child pornography. Do not get me wrong, I volunteer for international child advocacy group, I have three kids myself and I think child pornography is henious, just plain horrible. But, I really dislike the whole Nancy Grace approach of “he was accused so he must be guilty” I would suggest letter writter keeps her distance, remains professional.

          1. fposte*

            Right, pedophilia isn’t a criminal charge, because the charge is in the behavior, not the sexual urge. But there are charges for the sex acts–rape, child molestation, statutory rape–and not just the pornography, and it’s likely he’s facing those too.

            1. Arbynka*

              I agree. Sorry, just wanted to make the distinction. As I said, crimes againts children are henious and I am in no way making excuses for people who hurt children in any way. But I have met couple of people who tried to do something about their pedophilia so they could be part of society. It is very hard, there is incredible stigma attach to it so even seeking help is hard… :(

              1. NoPantsFridays*

                Thank you for making this distinction. When I was in college, I knew of a support group at my school run by a professor who was doing research on treatments for pedophilia — which is, as you and fposte say, the attraction to children and not the behavior. I knew a member of the group who said that given a choice between hurting a child and suicide, he would choose suicide. I don’t know how he is doing now but your story reminded me of him and it’s so sad. This guy would go to the ends of the earth to make sure he did not actually abuse a child.

            2. Zillah*

              Wait, hold on – we don’t have any indication that he’s facing any charges for sex acts. Is there a reason you think it’s likely that he’s facing those, too? If that’s the case, I think the OP would have mentioned it.

              1. fposte*

                You’re absolutely right, sorry–I was drawing on Arbynka’s statement and didn’t go back to the original post.

              2. Susan*

                I kind of assumed he was being charged. It depends on the state, but I used to live in Alabama where I guess the laws on all this are especially tough. Possession of child pornography (without even distributing it) is a Class C felony (i.e. good luck ever getting a job again) and would get you listed as a criminal sex offender. Even something like indecent exposure would get you on the sex offender list, although that’s only a Class A misdemeanor. But this varies widely by state.

                1. Susan*

                  Oh, I see. I misunderstood this thread slightly due to the language. When you said “he’s not being charged with any sex acts” that confused be because actually in most states possession of child pornography is classified as a sex act even if it’s not what we usually think of (like rape, etc. that you listed above).

                  But I think the point of my comment still stands–which is I’m not sure most people realize how serious these charges are. Possession in some states is a felony, but distribution is a felony in most states. So whether or not he “acted” on it, he’s in some serious legal trouble if convicted.

                2. Zillah*

                  Absolutely. I in no way meant to imply that charges of child pornography aren’t serious – they’re very serious, for good reason, and will get you in very serious trouble if you’ve convicted.

    1. Relosa*

      Actually, he does have a right to face his accusers in a court of law. Maybe not with festivities and ponies and a sprinkled cake, but we have this thing called due process and he DOES have a right to that.

      Behave as you wish, as you’re not a juror, but yes he does actually have rights as the accused.

      1. Zillah*

        What? I don’t see anything saying that he doesn’t have the right to face his accusers in a court of law – just that he shouldn’t expect a welcoming reception at work. There’s a huge difference between those two things.

        1. Relosa*

          I was mostly commenting on your choice of words and all-caps emphasis. Just makes it pretty clear where you stand on an situation you aren’t completely privy to. Which is fine – you have A RIGHT to do and say those things – but maybe you “shouldn’t expect” a welcoming reception to your choice of vocabulary :)

      2. Phoenix*

        Relosa, the other poster didn’t say he had “no rights” – is that what you’re replying to? They just said he had “no right to expect a welcoming reception” – and I doubt they’re talking legally.

  4. ThursdaysGeek*

    And please remember that he truly is innocent until proven guilty. My father was arrested for molesting a child. He was immediately let go from his job, excoriated by almost everyone. When the charges were dropped (the child named a relative upon closer questioning), he had to fight to get the job back and rebuild his reputation. That false accusation was devastating, as well as the idea that people who knew him could believe that of him.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Ok, he may not actually be innocent until proven guilty, because if he is guilty, he’s already done the crime and is not innocent. But it doesn’t hurt to be civil, just in case he was falsely accused.

    2. Relosa*


      Child abuse in any form is a truly heinous crime but only lambast those actually guilty of it. We do have a legal system, faulty as it is, and it is not always accurate in its processes.

    3. CanIPost*

      I’m sorry that happened to your father. Thank you for sharing because it is a good thing to keep in mind in situations like this.

    4. Cautionary tail*


      A friend of my child’s accused her father of sexually molesting her. The only problem was that he was able to prove that at the time he was 50 miles away at his retail job and had many witnesses. The child is known for dramatizing to get attention and this has escalated as she’s grown older.

      As a youngster we brought her on vacation and she dramatized a small cut into something so big that the amusement park called in an ambulance. We stood there boringly telling the officer in charge that she was being a drama queen and the EMT physical exam would show this. Eventually he figured it out and gave her a stern talking to which didn’t matter because she had already achieved the drama response she sought.

      1. nyxalinth*

        A child like that, I wonder if there’s some psychological issue going on, or is experiencing emotional neglect to the point where they will do anything to get any sort of attention. I’ve known kids who were drama queens or kings, and this goes way beyond that level. I hope she gets sorted out either way.

    5. Mike B.*

      I can think of several other improbable but plausible ways in which the coworker might be innocent, ranging from mistaken identity to overstated charges (eg, those ridiculous cases where a parent has been arrested for taking a picture of their child in the bathtub).

      Let the law take care of the punishment, if necessary. Let civility win the day in the meantime.

      1. Arbynka*

        “Let the law take care of the punishment, if necessary. Let civility win the day in the meantime”


      2. Lila*

        That’s why I’m so shocked at this piece of “advice”:

        “And if he’s not guilty, he’d probably understand the shunning until he’s absolved of guilt.”

        Um, nice.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s interesting to me that that’s rubbing people the wrong way. If I were charged with a heinous crime, even if I were innocent, I wouldn’t expect people outside my very closer inner circle to continue treating me as normal.

            1. AAA*

              I am sure that the rational mind understands that treating the situation as normal is impossible, but if you are actually falsely accused of a horrendous crime I can imagine the fallout from everyone could be incredibly isolating and hard to understand when you are actually in that situation. If you know you are innocent, it may be hard to come to terms with the fact that others can see you as guilty of crimes so heinous.

  5. MR*

    Just do nothing. It’s not worth your time.

    I find it extremely odd that a person charged with making and distributing child pornography is not only being allowed out on bail, but returning to work. If they are granted bail, it’s usually an extremely high dollar amount (of course, they only need to post 10 percent of that amount), and the last place they would likely go would be work.

    Are we really sure that this person is returning to work or is this just a workplace rumor that has no basis in fact?

      1. MR*

        I wasn’t disputing the arrest. Just wondering about the person being arrested returning to work. It wouldn’t be a pleasant place for that person to be at work and it could be a huge distraction for everyone else who works there.

        1. fposte*

          Somebody facing a court case is likely to need an income pretty badly. I doubt he can afford to choose to be only in pleasant places at the moment.

        2. A Bug!*

          Well, the bail is a separate thing from whether or not the guy’s returning to work; the court pretty much takes into account only whether the accused is a flight risk or likely to offend further if released.

          If his work doesn’t require him to violate terms of his bail, then it’s understandable he’d want to go back. He probably knows it’s going to be awful and that he’s not going to see much support, but right now of all times he almost certainly can’t afford to be missing work if he can help it.

        3. attornaut*

          It’s a tough situation, because it would be terribly unfair to fire someone just for being arrested, but also disruptive and uncomfortable for coworkers to keep them on.

          Larger companies or gov’t can afford to put someone out on administrative leave–where they don’t lose pay or benefits, but they also don’t report to work or enter the workplace at all. But that’s expensive (to hire a temp/replacement AND pay the alleged criminal) or reduces your workforce.

          Though I’m more surprised, with what the OP described, that the coworker’s bail doesn’t have a condition on it involving not using computers/the internet, which would make it very difficult to do most jobs.

            1. Elysian*

              Or perhaps that the employer has had a talk with the employee and has more information than we do. Or made a business decision that the employee is more valuable than the discomfort this might cause. Or a million other reasons that it might make sense not to fire someone. There’s not reason to assume that this is a bad decision for the business or go further and assume that because its so obviously a bad decision, a union had to be involved.

    1. Mike C.*

      I was wondering about this as well, but I don’t know how these cases are run, so it’s difficult to say.

    2. Elysian*

      Where else should they go, if not work? If he’s out on bail is he supposed to sit around isolated in their house for years waiting for trial? Even people awaiting trial have to eat and pay rent and legal fees. The money has to come from somewhere.

      The guy hasn’t been convicted yet. The OP should follow his or her conscience, because he is accused of a horrible crime. But there’s no need tell Coworker he’s a horrible person and you think he’s scum when you’re handing him the TPS report. Just think that quietly to yourself like you do with all the other coworkers you dislike.

    3. NavyLT*

      Actually, it does happen. Release on bond comes with restrictions (e.g., electronic monitoring, no access to computers/the internet, can’t be around children, etc.), and work and home are pretty much the only places they’re allowed to go. It all depends on the charges and on the individual circumstances.

      To the OP, be civil and professional, and keep interactions strictly work-related. Since he’s back at work, he needs to be able to carry out the fuctions of his job.

  6. BRR*

    Well it might not be a problem because he might not be employed there for too much longer.

    I just wouldn’t bring it up and would probably avoid the situation as much as possible (how waspy of me). If your position involves interacting with him I would say don’t be overtly rude or mean as he may be innocent, if he’s guilty he’ll get his punishment. It’s also reasonable to take any precautions if children come into your workplace.

  7. Tiffany In Houston*

    I’d think you’d want to keep any conversation strictly related to work matters and if at all possible try to deal with him via email as much as possible. Can your management provide you with some guidance on how he is supposed to be handled?

  8. The Other Dawn*

    OP has no way of knowing whether this guy is guilty or not. She should be a professional about it. Act as though nothing is amiss. Easier said than done, but wouldn’t she want that in return?

  9. Anon Accountant*

    I don’t know what to say. Has management or HR given any guidance? Otherwise I’d agree with relying on email when you need to communicate with him.

    Good luck OP.

  10. Relosa*

    Also remember that he could have been fired at any time between his arrest and his return to work. My bet is that HR and his superiors know more details about the proceedings and his situation than others on the floor. Trust their judgment and follow their lead on this, as I’m sure it was not an easy decision to make for either party – to either allow him to return or to actually return.

    1. Relosa*

      good lord, my writing skills are top-notch today.

      to either allow him to return or to actually return… of his own volition.

  11. TotesMaGoats*

    Please be professional about this and ask the same of your coworkers. We are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, not a court of media or a court of people who don’t know the whole story.

    Is it possibly that this guy is completely guilty of what he’s been charged with? Absolutely. That would be completely heinous and he should be charged to the fullest extent of the law.

    Is it also completely possible that he’s been falsely accused or it’s a case of nekkid baby pictures (that every parent has) being sent to family? Totally. You’d be surprised what people are charged with these days that shouldn’t be.

    Guilty or innocent, this guy’s life is now in shambles. Be professional, even when you find out the truth.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I agree.

      OP, please be as professional as you can. You don’t know the details and there are many scenarios in which he may be innocent of the crime. As hard as it is, don’t act in a way that you’d regret later.

      I once worked with someone who was accused of a horrendous crime. He was shunned by his co-workers (myself included) for about a week before management fired him. In the end, new evidence emerged and someone else confessed under questioning. To this day, I regret with great shame that we acted like he was guilty until proven innocent.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Also OP, don’t let this affect your own performance. Everyone still has a job to do. Getting distracted, shunning, etc could end up having bad consequences for employees’ productivity and hurt the overall business. It’s better to stay civil, professional, and productive.

    2. Robin*

      Agreed, I actually saw something like this happen when a friend’s divorce got ugly. We just don’t know the whole story here.

    3. Cucumber*

      Thank you so much for bringing this up. A member of my extended family committed suicide last month, after a false accusation. He had been accused of sexual assault, and was put on trial, and found not guilty. He was fired from his original job when he didn’t show up for work (because, in this case, he had just been arrested). He had work friends who supported him through the case, but lost all his savings proving his innocence. He tried to make a new start in another job, then committed suicide after his new supervisor, who had been bullying him, threatened to tell everyone about the rape case. He was so afraid of running the gauntlet, with everyone he worked with thinking that he had hurt someone… The only safe course, to know that you won’t hurt an innocent person, is to remain professional.

      1. Lila*

        Once again, Ask a Managers’ comment:
        “And if he’s not guilty, he’d probably understand the shunning until he’s absolved of guilt.”
        Sorry to keep posting it – it’s just so outrageously dismissive and cruel.

        1. Zillah*

          I disagree. If I was arrested on charges of a terrible crime, I wouldn’t expect people, particularly people who I’m not close to, to act like they had before the arrest. It’s completely understandable, particularly when it’s a crime that has such potential to ruin lives.

        2. Enid*

          I’m wondering if you’re interpreting “shunning” differently than others like myself who aren’t bothered by AAM’s comment. I read it to mean basically just keeping one’s distance and being no more than civil, which I don’t see as cruel or unreasonable. I wonder if you’re interpreting it to mean going out of one’s way to offend, insult or abuse the person.

  12. What the*

    A friend of mine used to work with offenders. Having a job helps them to keep from re-offending; it’s important to have some semblance of a normal life. If your coworker is guilty, treating him professionally may actually prevent any additional deviant behavior.

    That being said, good luck doing it. I can’t imagine how hard it would be.

  13. Woodward*

    There are multiple opinions of how to handle this – stick to email, avoid him, shun him, be professional, etc. Whatever you choose to do, realize that your manager may or may not agree with you on how to interact with this person aka you decide to shun him and your manager opts for professionalism.

    It’s YOUR reputation you need to keep in mind, no matter how upsetting this is. If you respond in an unprofessional manner, it makes YOU look bad.

  14. Sabrina*

    A guidance counselor at my HS (long after I graduated) was arrested for this, and even confessed to it. He was found innocent, and was innocent. He’d had some malware on his PC that had downloaded the images without his knowledge. He didn’t know they were there and had never even opened them or seen them. His career and reputation were ruined for nothing.

      1. Cautionary tail*

        I know it’s getting a bit off from the topic but no single malware protection is good enough.

        I run one in an active mode and three others that I manually scan with. Sometimes one finds something and the others finish clean, sometimes another will find something, sometimes several will find different parts of the same malware. I also run in-browser malware protection. Even with all this and sticking to clean websites, things do happen. I remember looking at golf scores on Sports Illustrated and that infected my computer. In summary I recommend that your run 500 different anti-malware programs, not the same one 500 times. Only one, like Norton, MalwareBytes, etc. can be active on any system at the same time, but you can run defense in depth so you reduce your potential exposure to malware.

        We now return to our regularly schedule topic.

    1. BRR*

      It’s like the person who got arrested for not password protecting their wifi and somebody else was using it.

    2. Mimmy*

      Why would he confess to something he knew he was innocent of? (I know that’s OT, but I’m really curious)

      1. Mimmy*

        Nevermind (I really need to learn to read an entire thread before opening my mouth…err…moving my fingers)

      2. Anonyby*

        For all we know, he could have been strong-armed into it by police interrogators. The same techniques that can break a tough-nut guilty person into confessing can make an innocent who’s not as tough falsely confess in order to get out of the interrogation.

  15. aebhel*

    Thirding (fourthing?) the recommendation to keep in short, sweet, and professional. You don’t have to call him names and you don’t have to pretend to be his best buddy–just keep all conversation brief and strictly to work-related topics.

  16. Tinker*

    Dude is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. He is not innocent until proven guilty in a court of do I want to social with this person.

    Coworkers always (well, okay, ideally always) get kind and civil interaction in the context of work activities. People, inclusive of coworkers, get idle chatting about the accessories I intend to attach to my bike, invitations to chop up watermelons with swords, spontaneous pub crawls, etc. according to whether I’m inclined to do so. Probably, with respect to kiddie porn man, I’d not be inclined.

    I think if one really does end up having to deal with this guy, best to handle the matter with a minimum of drama and in the way where work tasks go as efficiently as possible under the circumstances. With regard to additional social interaction, I don’t think a person should feel terribly bad about applying a different standard from the one we apply legally.

    Caveat: I’m talking here about declining social interactions extraneous to work and doing things like not being alone with the person, which is one’s right, not about harassing them or any other sort of extralegal “justice” type behavior. That sort of thing would not be cool.

    1. iseeshiny*

      Yes, very nicely worded, especially your first sentence. My good opinion and friendship is not a court of law nor is it subject to the laws of the land.

  17. Anonymous*

    Professional acquaintance was caught in a sex sting soliciting a 15 year old to meet him for sex. Pled guilty to WORSE charges than what he was originally arrested for. Served a sentence and came back into our professional community. Any shred of respect I might have had for him was lost when he started carrying on about how he was innocent–you don’t plead guilty to worse charges if they didn’t have proof, and the original charges were damning enough.

    In this case, I was able to avoid interacting with him fairly easily. I don’t know how I’d feel about having to interact on a daily basis on a professional level, especially if I’d been friendly before. I sympathize with your dilemma.

    1. JB*

      Eh, you’d be surprised about what people will plead to. People plead guilty to things they didn’t do for a number of reasons. If you are offered a better deal than you could get if you were found guilty at trial, or if you can’t afford the legal fees, etc. In my line of work, I see it not infrequently.

    2. Mike C.*

      There are tons of cases where someone confesses to a crime they actually didn’t commit. There are also lots of cases where plea bargains are used to force someone to “roll the dice” on their life, so to speak. I can’t know about this particular case, but the idea that “you don’t confess to a crime if they don’t have proof” is demonstrably false.

      1. Mike C.*

        Here’s the case of the “Norfolk Four”, from PBS/Frontline. I hope you take the time to watch it, because it shows that too many people believe that requesting legal representation indicates guilt, that confessions can be overturned in light of a lack of other evidence (not likely) and folks will make all sorts of terrible decisions after 12+ hours of intense interrogation.

        Link in the reply.

        1. fposte*

          People also pled guilty in the Wenatchee prosecutions. There were also several in the North Carolina case who pled no contest after being in prison for several years.

            1. Natalie*

              The Innocence Project estimates about a quarter of people they’ve exonerated had confessed to the crime.

              It’s shockingly common, along with mistaken witness identification. Sometimes it seems like our court system will never catch up with the times, and particular what research has demonstrated about the fallibility of people, generally.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I have 3 police officers in my close family, but I watch too many legal documentaries and dramas to ever agree to a police interview without a lawyer. In fact, one of my relatives has told us just that, that he would not want us to say anything without a lawyer if we are ever interviewed.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        My cousin’s ex-wife plead guilty to manslaughter and she was innocent. She was babysitting and the baby died: she was charged. Her lawyer told her to plead guilty, to avoid getting a worse charge, and she was a little slow (and deaf, so she didn’t always understand even more). She trusted the lawyer, and spent a couple of years in prison before that was challenged. The mother was guilty, but it destroyed the adoption process that she and my cousin were in at the time, and was at least part of eventually destroying the marriage.

      3. Sam*

        Or the boys who falsely confessed to the rape in the Central Park Jogger case (excellent documentary on Netflix). There was a good episode of This American Life last fall that dealt with confessions, and one part of it talked about how common false confessions are and how someone will confess and come up with details about a crime that the investigator is knowingly or unknowingly feeding them (Act One “Kim Possible”)

    3. bookmoth*

      “you don’t plead guilty to worse charges if they didn’t have proof”

      Really? You need to read more about what prosecutors and the police will do to force a plea agreement, by overcharging and misrepresenting evidence, and threatening an innocent-until-proven-guilty person with decades in prison unless they plead to a lesser charge and only have to serve maybe a year.

      Suppose you were falsely charged with a crime, something you didn’t do, but the prosecutor was seeking 30 years in jail for you. Suppose your lawyer isn’t confident that a jury will find you not guilty. Suppose you can’t make bail and are looking at months or more in jail before your case even comes to trial. Suppose the prosecutor offers to let you plead guilty and serve a year in jail.

      What would you do?

      What would you want your spouse to do?

      What would you want your 18-year-old son to do?

      Suppose you have a child on the way. What would you do?

      1. Mike C.*

        What sort of decision are you going to make at 4am after hours and hours of questioning?

        How do you know that the evidence the officer claims to have is actually real?

        How in the heck are you going to convince a jury that you’re innocent?

        1. Relosa*


          Also “evidence” =/= “proof” though they are used interchangeably. Evidence suggests, points to a possible conclusion(s). Proof is irrefutable, and pretty rare.

      2. Sarahnova*

        Suppose, also, that the police have been holding you and interrogating you for hours, without food, sleep, or any contact with anyone else. And then they start asking you how you MIGHT have committed the crime. And then you agree to write it down. And then you finally sign it because you’ve long stopped thinking clearly and the only thing you know is that it won’t be over until you sign.

        And then you get to sleep, and when you wake up you immediately retract your “confession”, but it’s too late. This has happened many, many times.

        1. L McD*

          Yes, this absolutely happens. The police will try to convince you that if you’re innocent, it doesn’t matter that you confessed, because the truth will come out. But it doesn’t, always. And often, by the time it does, your life’s already ruined.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, and many people cannot afford a lawyer, or don’t fully understand their rights (including the right to not say a damn thing without one). And public defenders are notoriously overworked.

          Also, cops and prosecutors will sometimes get tunnel vision and they zero in on closing the case, not on whether the person may have done it, especially if the evidence is shaky.

    4. Not necessarily*

      I have a friend who was essentially forced to plead guilty after she was accused of stealing a computer from her workplace. The only other person who could back up her side of the story (that she’d been given permission to take it home) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease before the trial, and because of that diagnosis became useless as a witness.

      Without the witness it became a he said/she said situation, with the “he” being her boss, and someone she had previously sued for sexual harassment. Unfortunately, he was also a Lutheran bishop (she worked for the church). Her lawyer told her that a jury would almost certainly believe the bishop over her, and her best bet was to plead guilty to a plea deal — otherwise she could end up spending several years in prison. She ended up serving 6 months of house arrest with work release and paying a fine (IIRC it was the lightest sentence the judge could impose).

      So, yeah, people plead guilty for all sorts of reasons.

    5. Office Mercenary*

      An acquaintance of mine is a defense attorney and says it’s routine for prosecutors to file charges they know they can’t prove in order to force a plea bargain. Simply put, the consequences for overconfidence are much higher for the defendant than for the prosecutors: if a prosecutor overestimates their chances of convincing a jury of a higher charge, they can still convict on lower charges in many cases, but if the defendant overestimates their ability to convince a jury, they go to jail.

      For example, he had a client who walked into his girlfriend’s place of work, hit her in front of her coworkers, and then dragged her by the arm into another room to yell at her. He was obviously guilty of assault, harassment, etc, but was also charged with kidnapping because he took her from one room to another. The attorney said, “Look, I can only negotiate a plea bargain for the crimes you committed in front of witnesses. I’m 90% sure I can convince a jury that the kidnapping charge is BS, but I can’t in good conscience tell you that you’ll definitely be found not guilty, and if you’re found guilty, you’re going to jail for 20 years.” He plead out and did way more jail time than the domestic violence charges would have indicated on their own.

  18. A Bug!*

    I agree that child sex crimes are among the most vile, repulsive crimes imaginable. But I think for your own sake, OP, it would be good for you to at least be civilly professional with your coworker. I don’t think anybody really has to say “I hate child pornographers,” because for most people, that’s a given. Your coworker knows how you feel about him, so you don’t have to tell him.

    I guarantee you that your coworker is already receiving a lot of negative attention as a result of the charge, especially given that it’s been publicized. You can add to it, if you want, and most people wouldn’t blame you. But if you’re able to find the personal strength to treat your coworker with cool professionalism while the facts are sorted out by the authorities, then I think that it would show a lot of integrity.

    Interacting with him civilly isn’t an implicit approval of child pornography or support for him; it’s just you being professional and rising above.

    However you decide to handle it, I wish you the best.

  19. Dan*

    “And if he’s not guilty, he’d probably understand the shunning until he’s absolved of guilt.”

    Your response makes it seem like shunning the guy before conviction is ok. “Innocent until proven guilty” needs to still have some meaning in this country.

    Even if he’s found innocent, there’s still a mentality that cops don’t arrest innocent people.

    1. fposte*

      “Innocent until proven guilty” is not a social doctrine but a legal one, though; people get to shun others for possible crimes anytime they please. Similarly, somebody who’s served her time and paid for her crime in a legal sense may still be shunned by those who don’t feel that time served makes it all good that she killed somebody.

      You treat this co-worker professionally at work because that’s the basic human standard, whether he’s awaiting trial, convicted and out on parole, or what have you. But not because you’re required to personally consider him innocent, because we’re not.

      1. Jamie*

        Well said. We aren’t held to the same standards as the court room – I shun people for being boring or parking badly.

        That said – I’d never shun someone where it came to professional communication. As mentioned up-thread civil is the standard to meet and that’s just basically the lack of open hostility. It doesn’t mean friendliness or chit chat.

        I would, however, absolutely make sure something was being done to assure no kids were going to visit the office (and I work in one where there are kids several times a week – so non-issue for child free offices) and if kids did come in I’d have zero compunction in making sure they were out of eye shot of him.

        I’m assuming this is an office position and I’m a little surprised being around computers isn’t prohibited while out on bail – as I assume that’s how most of this is distributed. If I were IT I’d have his computer so locked and monitored he’d not be able to do anything out of actual work duties.

        I understand there is a presumption of innocence in our justice system and I agree with it there, and I also think if the courts released him to return to work it’s incumbent on people to not harass him …but if there are ever kids in the office presumption of innocence takes a back seat to prudent safety measures and I would assume someone innocent would understand that.

        The OP mentioned this is a high profile case where she is and the way people talk about this I’m sure HR wouldn’t have to intervene to make sure people keep children away – but if my kids were small and I had their pictures up I’d be putting them out of site as well.

        Civil means lack of harassment and basic standards of professional courtesy. It doesn’t mean people are obliged to act as if nothing happened.

        1. fposte*

          And also, whether he’s guilty or not, sneering at him doesn’t help a single solitary child. If you’re moved to take action, take an action that actually helps a possible victim–volunteer with a child-serving nonprofit or donate to them.

        2. Kelly O*


          I’m not advocating harassment or acting unprofessionally. I just do not see one single solitary thing wrong with being on guard around this person and trying to make certain that no one else is potentially harmed or made to feel threatened.

      2. Anon*

        I agree.

        People can have their own emotional reactions to things, with or without a good reason. They also have every right to avoid someone who might be a pedophile until they can reasonably believe the person’s safe to be around.

    2. LBK*

      I don’t think she meant that it would be acceptable to shun him, but rather that the guy would probably be understanding of his coworkers’ impulse to avoid him.

  20. De Minimis*

    I would just try to be as professional as possible but of course there’s no way to act like none of this is going on.

    I was on jury duty once and the defense attorney made an interesting point about the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” He said that it gives a subtle assumption that the accused is already guilty, it’s just a question of proving it, and that people instead should say “innocent unless proven guilty.”

  21. Cara*

    Worst-case outcome if you are civil to him and it turns out he is guilty: you acted professionally towards a coworker who didn’t deserve it.

    Worst-case outcome if you are hostile towards him and it turns out he is innocent: you piled on someone who was already being accused of a crime that carries huge social stigma, possibly irreparably damaging your working relationship.

    Would you really regret giving him the benefit of the doubt and treating him professionally in the first scenario, more than you would regret shunning him in the second?

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Even in the first worst-case outcome, acting professionally is for the good of the business, even if the co-worker didn’t deserve it.

    2. Anon*

      This is a good point.

      Put your own comfort, mental wellbeing, or whatever first – but keep it professional and civil.

  22. Erik*

    Any crimes with children are rough, especially when they’re fabricated. I’ve seen people being brought up on fake charges, which ruined reputations for no reason.

    You could probably consider putting him on “gardening leave” for some specified time period, where he can stay away from the workplace until a decision has been made. I don’t see any positive points of bringing him back, as I’m sure it would be very tough for him to perform his duties as before.

    1. iseeshiny*

      Personally I think they’re worse when they’re not fabricated, but I suppose YMMV.

      1. Chinook*

        “Personally I think they’re worse when they’re not fabricated, but I suppose YMMV.”

        I don’t want to get into this in detail, but falsely accusing someone of a crime like this against is very bad not only because it is a stain against the reputation that is impossible to get rid of (because of the not guilty =\= innocent reality in most people’s mind), but it also calls into question whether the next accusation is true and makes it harder for victims to get justice.

        1. iseeshiny*

          I’m not saying that false accusations are not bad (I definitely don’t think that! They’re horrible! And so are the people who try to destroy someone’s life by making them) but I do take issue with this phrase: “Any crimes with children are rough, especially when they’re fabricated.” It set my teeth on edge.

          1. Calla*

            Agreed. People want to talk about alllll the ways this kind of thing can be fabricated, but not the fact that someone’s statistically *way more* likely to never be punished for crimes they *did* commit (including those who may have been charged but found “not guilty” in the eyes of the law).

            1. Mike C.*

              This is a dangerous attitude to have because you cannot prove a negative. If the state cannot prove their case you must treat that person as innocent, otherwise you are treating the state as infallible and there’s no way for someone who’s truly innocent to regain what was lost by being accused.

                1. Mike C.*

                  I never said you had to, only that you should understand you’re causing undue harm to completely innocent people.

                2. Calla*

                  @Mike C. – I’m not saying we treat anyone who’s been accused as guilty (and I’m not talking about cases where someone gets in trouble for innocent pictures of their grandkids), but I’m saying that sometimes, you may have a situation where you have reasons to strongly believe the person is guilty, but they are never charged or they are charged but not found guilty. In those cases, which is worse: the small chance that someone was wrongly accused and loses a friend, or the greater chance that a victim will have to know their perpetrator is getting away with it and the people around them don’t believe them? I know which scenario gets more attention. And I know which risk I would rather take.

                3. Elizabeth West*

                  I would like to point out, re your remark about having strong reasons to assume the person is guilty, that both we and the OP are hearing about this third-hand. We cannot personally do not know if it’s true at this point, and neither does the OP, because none of us are involved in the investigation. In a situation where we have observed the illegal behavior in question, that would apply, but not here.

                  Therefore, the best course of action would be to continue to behave professionally around the accused.

              1. fposte*

                I think that’s overstating it, unless you’ve got a pretty specific meaning for “you.” I think Ronald Goldman’s dad gets to hate on O.J. I think the people who get raped get to hate on their rapists whether they went to court or not, and they get to tell their friends and ask that said rapists be excluded from future social gatherings.

                I think even at work and even if you’re not the victim, you get to request to work at a distance from somebody and not to engage with them–but you have to be aware that your work may not support that possibility and consider whether maintaining such distance is important enough for you to leave your job.

                1. Mike C.*

                  I’m referring to all people declared “not guilty”, not specific instances. There are certainly cases where people have gotten away with a crime, but to start treating every person who is not guilty as someone who just got off on a technicality is a bad way to go.

                2. fposte*

                  We may just not agree completely on this–I think that this is the other side of the way law doesn’t map perfectly onto reality, and I’m skittish of getting behind anything that suggests social ostracism is only appropriate when there’s a legal finding, given that ostracism the only tool available to people, mostly more vulnerable people, in a lot of situations.

                3. Jamie*

                  @ Mike C – It’s hard to tell in type, so I’m going to state up front that I’m not at all being snarky – but curious:

                  If you had a candidate that was sued in civil court by previous employees for sexual harassment or racial discrimination and he was found not liable would you automatically assume the courts are correct or would you look into it to see if you could find the facts to make your own judgement.

                  Because I’m with you 100% in that people do sometimes plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, are sometimes wrongfully convicted, and sometimes get away with the crimes they did commit because of the way the trial fell. I absolutely do not think an unfounded or unproven accusation should ruin someone’s life or prevent them from earning a living.

                  But would you be able to put it aside due to a not guilty verdict giving it no more weight than someone who had never been accused?

                  I would never want to stop an innocent person from hire, but I would want to do due diligence to make sure there is no added liability.

                  No one not present will ever know 100% what happened at any event – but how do you handle a serious, although admittedly less emotionally charged issue, like racism and sexism.

                  Or to bring to light another workplace risk – someone who had been charged and found not guilty of rape. You know the position you’re hiring for would require he work with a woman alone at times in an isolated location. Does a hiring manager have an obligation to protect current employees by raising the bar this candidate has to cross to prove he’s not a threat?

                  I don’t know the answers to these. I know that morally and ethically I never want an innocent person to be haunted by an untrue accusation but I also don’t want people who may be a risk to have unfettered access to do more harm.

                  When you say you must treat them as innocent does that go so far as to acting as if it never happened?

                4. The Real Ash*

                  @Jamie- “Not guilty” is not the same as “not liable”. Those are two totally different legal terms.

                5. ThursdaysGeek*

                  @Jaime, and I’m not trying to be snarky either, but if you had someone apply who was accused and found not liable for whatever crime, do you think you would be able to determine innocence or guilt better than the court? Especially without access to all the evidence?

                6. Jamie*

                  @Thursday’sGeek – I don’t know the answer to this.

                  Innocent people are sometimes accused and even convicted – and that is a tragedy. But guilty people are also sometimes acquitted and when it comes to weighing the risks to the safety of others vs the rights of the individual I don’t know that there is an uncompromised answer to this.

                  I pray I’m never in that situation.

                  Yes, the media can be full of inflammatory crap, but when Drew Peterson was out on bond awaiting trial he was dating a young woman in her late teens or early 20’s. He wasn’t yet convicted but there was enough evidence leaked that I’d have ended up in jail myself if that had been my daughter.

                  If OJ wasn’t in jail for another crime would most people would be extremely uneasy to have him dating a loved one – and he was acquitted.

                  Those are very profile cases – but illustrate how complicated it is. I don’t know how people would properly walk the line between not showing unjust prejudice toward the accused without foolishly ignoring an increased risk where it may exist.

                  The system is imperfect and as long as there are innocent people accused and guilty people acquitted I don’t know what the solution is.

                7. Kayza*

                  ThurrsdayGeek, sometimes it’s the reverse. People outside the court system sometimes actually do have more information than the jury. This happens for a number of reasons. A key issue is that the Jury will never know whose arm was twisted by whom, but people outside often do. Also, very often facts come out after a trial, so that the outsider has better information than the jury.

                8. ThursdaysGeek*

                  @Kayza – that’s true, we’ll often read about things the jury is not allowed to know about, other convictions and evidence that had to be thrown out on a technicality. But we still don’t know everything the jury is given either. So, we may know things the jury does not, but I doubt that we every know everything that the jury does know (unless we’ve been attending the trial). Because of that, I’m still hesitant to assign guilt when the jury calls innocence. (And yet, I do suspect OJ was guilty anyway.)

                9. Kayza*

                  ThursdayGeek, actually, unless the trial is sealed it’s unlikely that someone would be unable to find out what the jury have been given. So, while my tendency is to go with a conviction, I know that it’s quite possible that it was incorrect. The same with an acquittal. So I think it’s perfectly reasonable to find out what you can and possibly draw your own conclusions.

                10. Zillah*

                  But at least in the US, as has been pointed out elsewhere in this thread, there is no ‘innocent’ verdict. There’s just a ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty,’ the latter of which basically means that the prosecution didn’t present enough evidence to convict the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

              2. aebhel*

                I know a man who was brought up on charges of sexually abusing his daughter. He was found not guilty. Knowing him, and his daughter, and being privy to some behavior that was not admissible in court, I am almost completely certain that he is guilty.

                I’m under no obligation whatsoever to treat him as an innocent man just because there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict him.

                1. Gene*

                  No, you’re not. But if he’s a coworker, you DO have an obligation to treat him with at least minimal courtesy at work.

        2. Jamie*

          Of course false accusations are horrendous and destroy lives – it’s horrific to contemplate.

          But while I would feel awful for an adult dealing with a false accusation, if it means a child(ren) haven’t been hurt then it’s by far the lesser of two evils.

          I would be so upset as not to be functional if I were accused of such a thing – but hypothetically if it were a moral choice between my fighting this for the rest of my days and a child being harmed even once I’d willingly take it on. Damage either way – but sexual damage to a child will always be worse.

          That’s what I assume iseeshiny meant.

          1. fposte*

            Though I don’t think Erik was offering a genuine priority–I think it was just the way he linked the compounds at the moment and we’re reading a little over-literally.

            1. Jamie*

              My reaction was to the “especially when they are fabricated” and response was just pointing out legit accusations will always be worse.

              I am sure he didn’t mean it the way it came across – but it did give me pause.

              1. Mike B.*

                I understand the impulse not to understate the effect on children, but…molestation accusations have the potential to take away a person’s family, friends, career, possessions, and freedom. With no guarantee that any of these will be restored if that person is vindicated.

                I’m remembering a case of a preschool aide who spent about thirty years in prison for abusing a student, even though it became increasingly clear over time that his charge had been trumped up by a mentally ill mother and accepted with little question by a homophobic prosecutor and jury. He’d been released last I heard, but his life was destroyed about as completely as possible.

                I honestly don’t know whether the effects of molestation are worse than that–it’s not a slam-dunk, in any event.

                1. anon for this*

                  I can tell you from personal experience that being molested ruins lives as well. And that’s far more common than false accusations.

            2. Erik*

              Bingo – just saying. No priority was given.

              Damn – I didn’t expect such a shit storm out of this. Zoiks!

  23. kobayashi*

    I think the best policy is to remain professional. You don’t have to hang out with the person, but in our country, people are innocent until proven guilty. Also, keep in mind that people have been charged with that crime for things that are rather innocuous. I remember reading a photography journal article about a grandmother that came under investigation because she sent photos to be developed. They were of her grandchildren–naked–jumping on the bed after just coming out of the bathtub. Innocent enough.

    1. ella*

      This. Also lots of things come under the “child pornography” umbrella. Maybe he has a relationship with a 17-yr-old and s/he sent him sexts; that would put him in possession of child porn.

      Note that I’m not condoning teenagers have relationships with adults twice their age, but the above situation would make him just skeevy, rather than predatory, at least in my mind.

      It would be any number of things. Nobody here knows precisely what he’s accused of doing. Presuming we know how to treat such a person says just as much about us as it does about him.

      1. CA Anon*

        Having a sexually explicit relationship with a teenager who’s under the age of consent isn’t just skeevy, it’s rape. What you’re describing as skeevy is actually predatory because a 17 year old cannot consent to a relationship with an adult. Full stop.

        1. fposte*

          Legally, they can in the majority of states–age of consent is 16 in most of the U.S.

          1. CA Anon*

            You’re right–I sometimes forget that not everywhere is California. In CA, the age of consent is 18. In states where it’s legal for a 40 year old to sleep with a 17 year old? I’d still consider it predatory and the consent dubious, even if strictly legal.

            In all states, though, I’m pretty sure that legal pornography is only 18+.

  24. Allison (not AAM!)*

    I sort of had to deal with something similar. About 20 years ago I transferred out of state with my company. Before I moved, I sat next to and became friendly with R, and his wife & 2 teenage daughters for that matter. After I moved, I learned that the wife had called the police because she found that R was collecting kiddie porn of little boys on their home computer. He was arrested from the office. When he was let out on bond, he went home and beat his wife for reporting him. He was, of course, re-arrested. I’m not sure what his sentence for either crime was, but he did return to work, eventually quitting because of his shame. His wife never divorced him, but had to become the breadwinner because he couldn’t get a job – it was all over the local news at the time – I felt so badly for his daughters.

    I moved back to town after about 5 years and a couple of years after that ended up accepting a job with a software company doing telemarketing (that didn’t last long – my choice!) and guess who was hired at the same time and went through all the training, etc with me. Yep, R. I was so uncomfortable in his presence and fought with myself as to whether I should say something to HR, of course I never did. I left after a couple of weeks, and as far as I know he was there for a few years. Not sure what he’s up to now.

    1. Dan*

      Dang, that’s actually kind of interesting. To report your husband for a crime, knowing it’s likely going to f his life up, and then stick around to pick up the pieces? That woman has tough skin. I guess this is the grown up version of cutting your nose to spite your face.

      1. Allison (not AAM!)*

        I never could figure that out. I don’t know what I would have done if it was my husband, except that he’d be history!! Apparently, they took out a bunch of boxes filled with 3.5″ floppies (it WAS the early 90s) filled with pictures. Like I said, I was friendly with the family, but you never know what goes on behind closed doors.

  25. some1*

    Can we all please remember that unless have a law degree &/or are apart of the criminal justice system, you don’t know what will or won’t happen. Law & Order is not real life.

    1. Elysian*

      Smart lawyers stay out of such things, too. Outsiders can’t (and shouldn’t) know about all the evidence and facts. It’s best to let the legal system run its course.

      1. A Bug!*

        Yeah, exactly. People who are actually involved in the justice system know better than anyone else that the information that makes it into the media rarely gives a full, correct picture.

    2. Mike C.*

      I’ve always wondered how the DAs on L&O have avoided disbarment for so many seasons.

        1. Mike C.*

          I think my favorite moment was in a late season episode where Watterson’s character was lecturing an ADA on an ethics issue he himself had committed with no qualms. It was pretty hilarious.

  26. Anon7*

    Wow, a lot of people here defending a person accused of child pornography. Im not saying it is wrong to do so, but do consider how it comes across.

    In my opinion, it is not unlike a more severe version of rape jokes – telling them enforces rape culture and makes rapists feel like their actions are common, or even accepted, and its just that no one talks about it. In this case, behaving toward this man as if nothing happened may enforce the idea that his behavior is common, or even acceptable, if outside of the law.

    OP, just follow your conscience. You are the only one who has to live with the consequences of your behavior, so just do whatever you are comfortable with.

    I would be very curious to hear how management is handling his return to work, as well. Are they providing any suggestions for behavior? Are they ignoring the situation entirely?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No one here is defending child pornographers; what they are pointing out is that sometimes charges turn out to be wrong, and that’s what makes this situation tougher than it would be if people knew for sure.

      Acting as if anyone who has been accused of a crime is guilty is would lead to all sorts of injustices.

      Again, as I wrote in the post, people need to follow their own consciences on this, but being aware that charges don’t always mean guilt is not the equivalent of rape jokes.

    2. Zillah*

      I don’t think there’s any danger of someone feeling that possessing child pornography is common or accepted, and just something people don’t talk about. It’s pretty widely reviled.

      I also haven’t seen anyone here suggest differently. I suspect that any child pornography or child abuse apologists would not find a great reception here, to say the least.

    3. Mike C.*

      First off, what the heck? You make that sort of accusation and you can’t even respond directly to the people you’re accusing? Why can’t you even bother to substantiate your claim with a quote from someone?

      Secondly, I’m getting really tired of this call to “just follow your conscience” while insinuating any sort of action is completely justified. That sort of thinking leads to vigilante justice. It’s a harmful, disgusting attitude that leads to innocent people getting hurt.

      1. LBK*

        I also hate “just follow your conscience” because the implication seems to be “as long as it agrees with what my conscience says,” at least in its use here.

        My conscience says this situation should just be ignored and the guy should be treated professionally and respectfully until anything is proven.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      WRONG. Oh, that made me really mad.

      I have seen this crap, at a citizen’s police academy, and I would NEVER defend anyone who contributes in any way to its manufacture or sale. It is truly sickening. I won’t describe it here, but let me just say that the look on that child’s face will haunt me to my grave.

      There is no way that being civil around this person at work equals condoning child pornography. You can be polite to people you absolutely despise. That would not be about his behavior, but about the OP’s. And if the OP decides that she is comfortable with throwing a hot cup of coffee in the face of the accused pornographer, or harassing him, or spreading gossip, or refusing to deal with him to the point of not getting her/their work done, then her bosses would be totally within their rights to address her behavior. Because that would be her choice to be unprofessional.

      1. Sarahnova*

        Agreed! Dear lord.

        I am a rape survivor, and my rapist was a senior work colleague. I hate rape jokes. I abhor those who use their power to abuse the vulnerable, including anyone who physically or sexually abuses children. I also know very very well that many people who are guilty of violent and sexual crimes never get so much as charged, although people who are innocent sometimes end up convicted.

        Were I this man’s *friend*, I would probably end the friendship, now, for my own protection and sanity. That would really suck for him if he is in fact innocent, no question, but that’s where my personal boundaries would fall, and I don’t *owe* anyone my friendship or unconditional support. But as his work colleague, I would endeavour to speak professionally to him when I needed to speak to him, and otherwise minimise my interactions. The idea that that makes me a “supporter of child pornography” is frankly absurd.

  27. C*

    The Sex Abuse Treatment Alliance/Sex Offenders Restored Through Treatment site might have some useful reading and resources for the OP (and others). They have a neighborhood guide specifically for folks dealing with proximity to known sex offenders:

    I know emotionally the initial and overwhelming reaction is one of revulsion and a desire to shun; that leaves sex offenders with little or no community but other sex offenders, which I’d imagine makes it harder to not repeat-offend. Feel your feelings, but idk, maybe also think about what your goals are longer-term, both for yourself, your relationship to that person/the company/your community? That requires calmness and some amount of empathy, which yes, is very challenging, which is why I think folks tend to land on “shun them, let the next company/friend circle/neighborhood/church/whatever deal with them” as their action plan. Not sure what it accomplishes, though.

    1. salad fingers*

      Late to the party here, but I have to agree with this. Reading these comments, I think empathizing with horrible people/people who have done horrible things comes a little too easily for me, but whether you feel like it’s a moral obligation or not, it does at least seem like a practical one on some levels. Alienation can be pretty devastating for not only the person feeling alienated.

  28. My2Cents*

    He has destroyed lives. DESTROYED. Those kids are broken. I don’t think he deserves all the “civility” that others seem to think he does. I would not speak to him EVER unless I ABSOLUTELY had to keep my own job.

    1. fposte*

      If he’s committed the crimes, yes, then he has.

      But it hasn’t yet been ascertained that he has committed those crimes. There’s a really important difference between “arrested for” and “convicted,” and you can’t rely on newspaper reports or office gossip for facts.

      1. JB*

        Sadly, as I’m sure you are aware, you see this attitude with potential jurors pretty commonly. In some people’s minds, arrested=guilty because “they wouldn’t have arrested him if he wasn’t guilty.” I’m not sure what those people think the point of having a trial is.

    2. CanadianWriter*

      We don’t know that he actually did it. His life might be the only one being destroyed in this situation. Read through the rest of the comments. People have been falsely accused, gotten the photos through malware, or had sketchy neighbours using their wifi.

    3. This is me*


      If I’m ever arrested for something, I sincerely hope you aren’t one of my jurors.

      1. iseeshiny*

        I don’t know why, I think it might be the capslock, but I mentally read the whole post in Nancy Grace’s voice.

      2. Mike B.*

        I also hope I never have to work with this guy (though not for THAT reason, but because working with people who can’t behave properly in a professional setting is hell).

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Me too. Jurors should never leap to conclusions; they are supposed to impartially examine all the testimony.

        But if My2Cents reacted that way during voir dire, she might not get picked anyway.

    4. Anon*

      While I’m revolted by child abuse and I hate this man I’ve never met, I think some amount of civility would be required for OP to keep their job.

    5. Original My2Cents*

      Just an FYI, I’ve posted in the past once or twice under this name and this doesn’t reflect my opinion or thoughts on this matter. This is a new “My2Cents.”

  29. nep*

    Sorry you’ve got to deal with this. I for one will be interested to hear how this goes.

  30. 2cents*

    Since there weren’t any specifics about what was or wasn’t found, its a little hard to hear so many people villafy someone that they don’t know and are not familiar with the situation. I do not know the person and too am not familiar with this situation, but from an outsider’s perspective, his participation by possession of material for all we know, could involve someone who is 17 and consented to being filmed. That doesn’t make it right and he would still be guilty, but would your perspective change if that was the nature of the images found? I personally don’t approve of that situation either, but just trying to illustrate that possibility and how our perspective changes when different than what we normall conjur up when we hear that term. As a side note, the violation the OP mentioned is different from being an active pedophile – which from reading some of the above comments sounds like some of us have that confused or have assumed that he is being charged with that as well with no indication from the OP in her original question.

    From a workplace situation, if he has images on his work computer, he is probably violating your company computer policy and that has its own set of discipline. But as an HR professional, you should treat everyone with respect, especially when discipline or terminations are involved and always let an employee leave with their dignity. If your company has an EAP, this might be a good way of bringing up the topic and a start at bridging and mending the gap between arrest and court appearance.

    From a “how do I act around this person while he is back at work” question, as a professional, you absolutely should treat him with the same level of respect you had before the event. As a professional, you absolutely should continue to treat him with the same level of respect even if he is found guilty. As a human, you absolutely should treat him with respect regardless and as a Christian you should treat him with respect, grace and compassion. So unless you happen to know that the victim or person depicted in the material is a relative or a close personal friend, the way you interact with him should be professional, respectful and maybe a little more compassionate than before you were aware that this was a stumbling block in his life. If you are HR – I would start with a conversation regarding what if anything that you know to have been found on his work computer and if that isn’t known, start with the event of his arrest at work and work towards connecting him with the EAP or the behavioral health network that your health insurance offers.

      1. Tinker*

        Yeah, I’m sympathetic to the point of view and all, but it’s rather forward to simply assume that the folks being addressed are Christian and also want to be addressed in that way by a relative stranger discussing a question of professional conduct.

        For instance, my background is from a Christian tradition where typically folks aren’t comfortable with calling out values as specifically Christian in mixed company. I’ve also got a lot of friends who are committed followers of non-Christian religions, including one who once had an Internet-atheist say triumphantly to him, knowing that he was a theist, that “your god is no more real than Thor.” Which did not come off as expected given that my friend is a Northern Tradition pagan who follows Odin.

        It generally works better to avoid making these assumptions.

      2. 2cents*

        I’m not assuming anything and am personally not even religious (though raised by southern baptist parents and live in the south where religion is everywhere here) – just saying there are a couple of mindsets that are prevelant among people who have strong opinions on this type of situation, and very common among those who call themselves Christian (especially here in the south) I was just trying to address both – not to make religious assumptions – I apologize if that is how it came across. My intent was really just to address professionalism from a couple of different views.

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      As a professional, you absolutely should continue to treat him with the same level of respect even if he is found guilty. As a human, you absolutely should treat him with respect regardless and as a Christian you should treat him with respect, grace and compassion.

      Excuse my mentioning it, but: a) yes; b) yes; c) objection, relevance?

    2. Jamie*

      As a side note, the violation the OP mentioned is different from being an active pedophile – which from reading some of the above comments sounds like some of us have that confused or have assumed that he is being charged with that as well with no indication from the OP in her original question.

      I’m not at all confused and I can’t disagree strongly enough. I don’t believe it’s a lesser evil to enjoy, promote, and distribute the destruction of children by horrific abuse than doing it yourself. It perpetuates it, it keeps the market alive, and it exploits and abuses those children again and again.

      If I pay someone to kill another person I am just as guilty even if I didn’t pull the trigger – participation makes one’s hands just as dirty.

      you should treat everyone with respect

      Why? In life? Everyone is entitled to basic courtesy and civility until they prove they deserve otherwise…but respect? Absolutely not – that’s earned.

      So unless you happen to know that the victim or person depicted in the material is a relative or a close personal friend,

      Did you really mean to say that his treatment should hinge on whether or not one knows the victim’s personally? I am glad juror’s don’t have this mindset – because if everyone was only concerned with their own family and social circle the entire justice system would be extremes of apathy and vigilantism.

      the way you interact with him should be professional, respectful and maybe a little more compassionate than before you were aware that this was a stumbling block in his life.

      Dropping out of college is a stumbling block. Making a wrong career choice and having to self-correct is a stumbling block.

      If he is innocent it’s not a stumbling block, it’s a false accusation. If he’s not innocent it’s also not a stumbling block – it’s a felony and it’s evil. I have no idea what religion has to do with this, but I would want no part of any belief system that required one to see the abuse and exploitation of children as a stumbling block.

      And that’s all I will say on the subject because I am viscerally affected at what I see as a cognitive disconnect by assuming if someone is guilty of this heinous crime it was a misstep and deserving of more compassion and understanding. Where is the empathy for the victims in this?

      If he’s innocent (as opposed to merely not guilty) then it’s horrible he is having to go through this. But they found material which means there were children harmed by someone – where is the compassion for them?

        1. Jamie*

          Blockquote – if you go to the gray sidebar called how to comment it will show the html.

      1. Calla*

        I cannot believe that people still say “he’s only looking at pictures/videos, it’s not like real children are being hurt.”

            1. Ellie H*

              Oh, OK. I totally misread – I somehow thought it was using/possessing and distributing not making and distributing. Creating (non-artificial) child pornography obviously involves the abuse of children, not just accessing depictions of that abuse. I do think that people see accessing/using vs. abuse a little differently, however.

        1. LBK*

          But I think there IS a difference between perpetuating a horrible act and committing it. Neither one is conscionable, but I think putting child abuse on the same level with viewing child pornography actually gives the abuser too much of a free pass. It’s like saying well, if you’re going to be even remotely involved in this kind of thing, you might as well just go full on abuser because you’re an equally horrible person either way.

          Again…not saying a non-abuser is a hero or even a remotely good person for not acting on their impulses, or that they even earn any points for it. But there is SOME kind of distinction that I feel should be made for those who resist the urge towards direct physical action, even if the outlet through which they resist involves indirectly promoting abuse.

          1. Sophia*

            I don’t agree that “it’s like saying well if you’re going to be even remotely…” People who look (and by the way, the coworker, as stated up thread, was charged with making and distributing not just possession) create the market for child pornography, and thus the abuse of children

            1. LBK*

              Maybe I’m wrong on this but I’m under the impression that the people committing the abuse would be doing it whether there were a market for it or not. I’m assuming they’re doing it due to their own attraction, not just because they’re businessmen fulfilling a demand in a market…

              1. LBK*

                By which I mean that it’s not like if every pedophile stopped watching child porn, that would stop the abuse. It would probably just stop the abuse from being filmed and distributed.

                1. Jamie*

                  I don’t believe it would stop it, no. It’s been with us from the beginning of time.

                  But I think it could lessen the extent because I believe it exacerbates it in two ways:

                  1. It normalizes it. Before the internet I am sure these people found each other – but not as easily and not as globally. They communicate, they form a community where they trade this stuff and it normalizes it in a way that was impossible back before the internet made the world so very small.

                  2. It’s a business. It makes money and they are the market for that business. As long as a demand has a pipeline of cash there will be people willing to supply the product, however abhorrent. Do I believe that the money makes normal, decent people consider this as a way to make cash? Absolutely not – it’s the people who, yes, would likely offend anyway. Would they offend on the same scale? There is trafficking of children, there are market niches these monsters fill…because there is a demand. I do believe this increases the number of victims and the vast exposure and bringing them in contact with others who will harm them compounding the damage.

                  It casts a larger net and increases the harm and the number of victims.

                  And if it did “only stop it from being filmed and distributed” isn’t that something? If I was sexually assaulted that would be traumatic enough without knowing it was filmed and passed around for other people’s sexual gratification. That’s not incidental.

                2. Office Mercenary*

                  In some cases, the abuse is for purely economic reasons. For example, there are corners of the internet where pedophiles pay people to abuse children on web cam, and there are people who abuse children in their care long-distance out of financial desperation. As it becomes more common, it becomes more acceptable. e.g.:

              2. smilingswan*

                It is a business, and a highly lucrative one at that. Child pornography/molestation/trafficking are all intertwined, and it is a multi-billion dollar industry.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        That doesn’t excuse the OP from behaving badly toward the person at work if she chooses that course. I will repeat again, this is about COWORKER behavior, not the behavior of the accused. If she behaves badly, her bosses will have to discipline her for it.

        And no one is saying that there isn’t compassion for any victims.

        1. Jamie*

          Who said anything about her behaving badly. I stated in several posts that I think the only course of action is to be civil and professional. I haven’t heard anyone state that she should be hostile or behave badly.

          I was responding here to specific comments in the post to which I was replying.

          And I absolutely question the compassion for victims when anyone refers to making and distributing child pornography as a misstep which deserves more understanding and compassion than before. That was a direct response to the post to which I was replying – not a general comment. That’s why I quoted parts of it specifically.

          Everyone is entitled to their opinion and it’s possible you interpreted that differently than I, but that was how I read it and I fully stand behind my opinion.

          But I haven’t seen anyone, certainly not I, advocate unprofessional behavior toward him because yes – then she’s an issue in the workplace. But to me civil is professional and able to get work done without drama and not small talk. I’m not sure why you’re responding as if I’m telling her to harass him when I didn’t say anything of the kind.

      3. 2cents*

        Jamie, I’m sorry that my opinion I posted on what I assumed to be a question asking how to professionally handle working with someone accused of a bad situation has upset you so much to cause you to dissect my response line by line. My post wasn’t directed to you and wasn’t addressing what you should personally feel about someone you don’t know or any of the circumstances related to the accusation. My response also didn’t give my personal opinion on child pornography, the victims of child pornography or what should or shouldn’t happen to those who make/distribute/promote etc. that type of material – because that wasn’t the question posted. My response was simply geared toward my opinion on how a co-worker should be treated in the aftermath. I’m not a lawyer, I’m not religious and I’m not standing up telling everyone that this guy should be acquitted, accepted into your inner circle of friends or lunch group or invited over for dinner. You are entitled to have your own personal opinion, and if you want to misdirect your indignation and disgust regarding all people who participate in child pornography toward me because I can see a perspective outside of convicting someone merely on an accusation relayed through a blog post – that’s fine – but it still doesn’t constructively offer a solution to the original question asked which is what my understanding is of this blog’s intention. I just hope that your interactions with others in your office and those you come across in your everyday life are at least uneventful if professionalism is something that you are unable to achieve.

        1. Zillah*

          Personally, I think that Jamie’s response was eloquent and on-topic, and I saw nothing about it that indicated that she is incapable of behaving professionally or was advocating convicting on a serious crime someone in criminal court based on an accusation on a blog.

          1. iseeshiny*

            +1 Eloquent, on-topic and IMO well-reasoned. I don’t know how she would have debated anything in your answer in a way that made sense had she not gone line by line – your comment was long and it’s easier for everyone reading to know what section she was referring to rather than trying to guess.

            Additionally I think it’s a little disingenuous of you to keep insisting that you’re not religious. Surely, even if you aren’t in fact religious, you understand why people would come to that very logical conclusion. Also, no one (to my knowledge) had any problem with you being Christian, just your assumption/implication that everyone else/the OP is and must be guided by Christian precepts.

  31. HM in Atlanta*

    You have to be careful about firing someone when they’ve only been arrested. Usually, if the case is ongoing, there are 3 main ways that someone will be terminated – (1) they accused misses so much work that he’s fired (2) restrictions placed by the court about using a computer or traveling means the accused can’t do her job and is fired (3) the prosecutor places something into evidence (like the items found on his work computer) and the company fires him for improper usage of company property.

    1. Sophia*

      But states have at will employment, so they can be terminated at anytime. I don’t think (but could be wrong) that being arrested is a protected class. Not saying it’s right (though I think it would be in this case) but legally, they can

      1. fposte*

        There’s some movement on that in the EEOC, actually. It’s “enforcement guidance” rather than legislation, so I don’t know how far it legally gets you, but they’re pretty clearly opposed to, say, blanket policies that an arrest would lead to a firing.

      2. CAA*

        In Wisconsin, the Fair Employment Law says you cannot fire an employee who has been arrested unless the arrest is closely related to the job the employee performs. Wisconsin is an “at will” state, but the specific law overrides that. I assume there are probably other states that have similar laws.

        I agree that HM’s scenarios are the most likely. The other one I can think of is if the arrest results in the loss of a security clearance that’s required for the job.

    2. Dang*

      I’m actually temping for someone who is incarcerated right now. They are holding her job for her.

  32. iseeshiny*

    So the best way I can think to frame this situation is you have Schroedinger’s pedophile working in your office. Don’t treat the cat like it’s dead, but also bear in mind that it might not be alive.

    That’s a horrible analogy. The point is you don’t know whether your coworker is guilty or not. You have zero obligation to be supportive of him through what is certainly a difficult time in his life, deserved or not. You don’t need to go out for drinks with him or be the only person in the office who will chat about the weekend. There’s no prize for being Kindest to the Guy Who is Suspected of Child Pornography but Might Yet Be Innocent.

    Equally important to remember is there is no prize for being Cruelest to the Guy Who is Suspected of Child Pornography and Might Really Be as Scummy as You Think He Is.

    So probably the best course of action to take will also be the easiest – keep interactions to the bare minimum – work related stuff only. No need to bring stoning rocks or spit on anyone in the elevator. This way you won’t have been mean to a living cat but you also won’t have been cuddling a dead one whenever the box is opened.

    1. Jamie*

      I think this is a brilliant analogy and I wish I had thought of it.

      I co-sign this entire post – really well put.

    2. Kelly O*

      I love this.

      I wish we didn’t have to make the analogy, but it’s the best one I’ve seen.

    3. Office Mercenary*

      +1 It’s a lot like the Schroedinger’s Rapist essay: there are consequences to assuming he’s guilty and consequences to assuming he’s innocent.

  33. Purr purr purr*

    I’m not sure he should be actively working there. Perhaps it would be better if he was placed on paid suspension until a decision has been made on his case and then a final decision could be made by his workplace depending on the verdict. I doubt anyone would be charged with *making* and distributing child porn unless there was a serious amount of investigation beforehand. That being said, innocent until proven guilty.

    1. Mike C.*

      I know nothing about these sorts of cases, but many murder cases have been decided on much less evidence.

    2. Observer*

      “They think they have a case that will stand up in court” does NOT mean that they actually found a truly guilty party. The “This American Life” piece that someone linked to upthread has a couple of really good examples. I know of a molestation case, where the police made an arrest – they thought they had an air-tight case. But, it turns out that the kid made it up.

      It’s not for nothing that troubled children are a common target of predators. They know that these children have low credibility, and **there is a reason for that.** Which creates a real dilemma for investigators. Those of you who think that the results of a false accusation are not totally devastating are wrong – lives can be totally destroyed. On the other hand, you don’t want to leave any group of kids to be even more vulnerable, and you don’t want to re-victimize a child who has already been victimized. Very, very difficult situation all around.

  34. Celeste*

    OP, you are asking about how to handle it. I think you probably are asking how to be comfortable with him being back. But, I’m not sure there is any way to do that. I think you have to go on with your work as before, stick to business, and hello and goodbye. I don’t see why (unless he has been a friend on some level) there would be any need to ask or not ask anything. As others have noted, it’s in the court’s hands now.

    I think that for the sake of the workplace running correctly, there is a good chance that when your coworker returns, he will be monitored and there won’t be much chance for him to be talking with people, anyhow. I can’t imagine any management that wants this discussed at work, can you?

    Good luck. I’m glad he got caught; the most dangerous ones are the ones who haven’t yet been caught.

  35. fposte*

    Alison, if you were a higher-up in this office, would you recommend any particular course of action? What if he were out and the absence needed to be communicated?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ugh. My first thought is unpaid leave while waiting for the courts to sort it out, but I’d want to talk to someone with more experience dealing with this kind of thing.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I was trying to decide what I’d do and didn’t really come up with an answer, which is why I asked. I will devoutly hope that I never need to figure this one out.

      2. Celeste*

        Paid admin leave beats having him in the office to me. Unpaid seems like it leaves the door open to action from him.

      3. LBK*

        I guess my only thought in that regard is how long do these types of cases usually last? I thought I read on the comments on a related post that it can take years before the trial even starts. Is it even worth keeping someone on the books if they’ll be gone for 2-3 years minimum?

        1. NylaW*

          Considering nearly every state is an “at will” employment state, I would think they could put him on paid leave for a while, see what the timeline looks like and then fire him at a later date.

      4. AcademicAnon*

        I think if there was any chance of any child being the office, then it has to be some type of leave, just because of the risk to the business.

    2. This is me*

      Great thought. I also wonder how/if you would address this with your staff. With such easy access to media, do you say something to try and quell rumors or gossip, respect the person’s privacy, pretend like nothing happened, etc.

  36. OP*

    OP Here,
    Thank you for the excellent advice. I wish I could add an update but my co-worker hasn’t been back to work yet.
    We’re all shocked (small town/big company).
    Questionable police arrests and criminal records are very common in this town, but the case seems pretty solid against the guy.
    Most people either hope it’s a mistake or hope he rots.
    We’ve also discussed how we missed it, how we didn’t realize that a (accused) predator was among us, going to our meetings during the day and even drinking with us after work. He’s the last guy anyone would have suspected, I write that as someone born and raised in a big city full of perverts and weirdos.
    Thank you again for the wisdom. Yeeech.

    1. Jennifer*

      A big shot in my extended religious community got caught with (and confessed to, so innocence isn’t really a possible factor there) child porn this year. Now all of these people are coming out of the woodwork saying he was creepy or abusive towards them. I never liked the guy from the getgo–he was shacking up with a girl who had to be at least 25 years younger than him, he creeped me out to look at, he seemed like a guy who’d explode in rage very easily. But I wouldn’t have guessed kiddie porn. At any rate, I kept quiet when certain now ex-friends of mine liked him. I wonder how they’re feeling these days. But I’d imagine that if you have that issue, you have to be very good at covering it up.

    2. Jamie*

      How would you know?

      Most adults have sexual proclivities and activities (thankfully usually consenting and adult) and their co-workers don’t know about them.

      I would love to live in a world where you could tell a predator by looking at them. If they all wore trenchcoats, and drooled with lust in their beady little eyes the world would be a safer place…because we’d know who to avoid.

      But it’s regular people. Just like it’s regular “nice” people who physically/emotionally abuse their kids, and sometimes that super funny guy who is always willing to help you out is the one who sometimes beats his wife. And sometimes the person who will harm your kids is someone in your family that you love, or their awesome baseball coach, or that really great teacher who gets them excited about learning.

      The fact that these kind of crimes so often hide under a veneer of normal is what makes them so insidious.

      Our work selves, even when genuine, are only one facet of who we are. We all have a lot to us that our coworkers aren’t privvy to – it’s just that it’s mostly harmless so it doesn’t matter.

      I make the best potato salad in the world – not opinion, it’s a fact – I doubt any of my coworkers know that. But because it’s not icky no one would feel dirty and betrayed if they found out.

    3. Arbynka*

      OP, many times it is the last guy anyone would suspect. Serial rapist, killers, child abusers… many are often respected and well liked members of society. Sociopaths are very good at blending in.

      If he in fact comes to work before his trial, I would do as I said
      before, act professionaly and keep my distance. Please keep us posted. This is one of the situations I hope I won’t ever have to
      deal with at work. Or anywhere else.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Well, you wouldn’t know, because 1) as an adult, you’re not in the victim target range, and 2) most people keep that stuff pretty quiet.

      Look at Ted Bundy–everyone thought he was this All-American, clean-cut, handsome guy. In reality, he was a brutal serial killer and a necrophiliac who left his last victim, a child, dead in a hog shed like so much trash. Crime writer Ann Rule even worked a suicide hotline with him and she used to be a cop and she didn’t have a clue. Rule had a hard time believing it even when she was contracted to write about the Ted Killer, until the trial started. Then it hit her.

  37. NylaW*

    This seems like the perfect situation for some paid administrative leave if for no other reason than to allow other staff to be comfortable coming to work and to avoid any possible confrontations at work from staff who might not be as civil as AAM readers.

    1. Arbynka*

      I’d say if it would be possible for him to work from home that might be option as well.

      1. Jamie*

        That crossed my mind, but remoting in requires both the company network and the end users internet connection. As secure as you can make things it’s never 100%.

        And he would be either using the company’s laptop in an unsupervised environment (no) or his own to remote in (hell no.)

        I’d go to the mat to keep that door locked – moral wariness aside – just plain risk assessment would preclude this.

  38. Ineloquent*

    I was molested by a cousin as a child. It was a horrible thing, and I cannot prove anything due to the fact that it happened decades ago, but the fact that that man does not have a conviction does not make him any less disgusting and evil. Conversely, my sister in law hs started spreading unsubstantiated rumours that my dad is a pedophile – to my knowledge, he’s not, but that doesn’t change the fact that his reputation was tarnished enough that he had to move across the country.

    The legal conviction, while important in many ways, does not equal the truth of the matter. Neither do rumours and reports. You know the guy. Use your judgement and listen to your gut. Be professional regardless, but you owe him no more than that unless you feel comfortable with it. There’s no right way to deal with this – unless and until solid proof surfaces, the only one who knows the truth of the matter is him.

    1. bearing*

      “but the fact that that man does not have a conviction does not make him any less disgusting and evil. ”

      If he actually did it, you mean.

      1. iseeshiny*

        Wow. I can only think that you did not read the whole comment or misunderstood who “that man” was in the comment. Ineloquent was referring to their cousin, and if you did not misunderstand the comment, you are the kind of person who calls an abuse survivor a liar.

        1. bearing*

          I misread. Thank you for calling it to my attention; I thought “the man who did not have the conviction” referred to the OP’s coworker.

          Goodness, I’m glad that’s the only thing you could think about me.

  39. A Teacher*

    Two teachers in my district that were roommates, one of the teachers had a relationship with a 16 year old student. She was eventually arrested and charged. Her roommate did not know about the relationship, but she was suspended pending investigation and then let go with cause at the end of the school year. After an investigation by the police department completely clearing the roommate of any knowledge or wrong doing, the district still trashed her reputation and has made it impossible for her to find a job. She’s now suing, the one that actually had the relationship plead guilty and is in jail for something like 5 years. Please be professional, even if he is guilty you will know you did the right thing. I’m sorry, this is a tough situation to be in.

  40. Anon4this*

    We had an employee here who was convicted of child sexual abuse on his own daughter. He got probation with heavy restrictions and continued to work here for several years until his death.

    Simple, non-engaging, professional treatment was what he got from about everyone, including me. It wasn’t my job to punish him for what he did.

  41. Ruffingit*

    Whatever this guy may or may not have done, the fact remains that you still have to work with him. That is a decision the bosses have apparently made, that is to let him return to work while he awaits trial. I don’t think this is even an issue of judging him for whatever he may/may not have done, it’s an issue of professional behavior while at work. This person is returning to their job so behave professionally around them and be done with it. Nothing good will come of shunning them at work because the decision has been made to allow them to return to their job so do what you’d do with anyone you work with – be courteous and professional. End of story. If the guy gets convicted then so be it, but what does it do to shun him at work? Nothing except make everything at work much more difficult for all involved. Everyone do their jobs as they would do them normally makes more sense to me.

  42. Anon for this one*

    I knew of a teacher in high school who was caught trying to solicit sex from a nine year old boy online. The “boy” was an undercover cop. When the principal spoke to the students, she informed us that while the teacher had been arrested, he was not being fired and could return to teach if he wanted. I thought that was pretty odd, but since we were high schoolers, I suppose they didn’t think we would be in the same kind of danger as small children would be. It was moot, because he didn’t come back.

    OP, I agree about keeping your distance from this guy. You can still be civil while being distant. I know this is a messed up situation, so good for you for being proactive about this.

  43. anon*

    I know this is a workplace blog but I really need to know becaus eI can’t even google or ask IT people that I know, that’s how scared I am….

    How likely is child porn to be attached to regular porn? In all honesty, I watch regular porn (consenting adults)…I watch them on websites and then close it. but I don’t download anything. Sometimes I get so paranoid that maybe child porn is somehow downloaded or attached…my computer goes through the checks from the antivirus and “0” issues show up. I’ve never had a million links open up, and it’s NEVER NEVER NEVER at work though. But I still get scared when I read about this stuff. (I’m female btw).

    1. Zillah*

      I don’t know the answer to your question, but just a point – it can be difficult to know whether the adults in porn are truly consenting freely or not, and if you can’t tell whether the site will download child porn onto your computer, you can’t necessarily tell whether the adults in it are enthusiastic participants.

      Just a thought.

    2. The Real Ash*

      As long as you aren’t downloading anything directly to your computer, you should be find. If you are really worried about it, get some of those nifty script-blocker apps for Firefox / Chrome and use them. I’d suggest pop-up blockers too. You will have to dink around with allowing scripts any on website that has them (even legitimate websites will have auto-scripts, like anything with Disqus comment sections or what have you), so don’t worry if you see a notice come up about the scripts. And as long as you run your anti-virus software regularly (I’d also recommend an anti-spyware program like Spy-Bot), you should be fine.

      “Good” porn sites do not allow those kinds of viruses on their site. If they did, no one would come to their site, even the free sites. Then they wouldn’t get any revenue. The places you have to be careful are torrenting programs where you have no idea what you’re downloading until after the download is finished.

      In short: Don’t be so paranoid about your habits. Just use some common sense and run your cleanup programs regularly. Also, you can use private browsing on Firefox and Chrome so that your history won’t be tracked.

      1. Anon.*

        So, consenting adults, no big deal. There is private VPN software, and many of them don’t keep logs of you activity. Your internet activity looks like it’s logged into another IP address. Of course this doesn’t change the fact that if your computer was seized they could likely find that data.

        There’s also a browser….which is often used for maybe not the most savory of purposes…to access Silk Road (you know that place where you can buy stuff with bitcoins) (TorBrowser? Someting like that.) Anything with the .0nion extension is blocked from view, so to speak.

        We don’t know the full details of the arrest, or what evidence was gathered to make the arrest, but I’m sure that the police (or whatever entity) must have had some reason to make the arrest, and have built enough evidence to make a case that they feel will stand up in court. He was unlikely arrested for getting an attachment via email on accident. Although, he could very well be innocent and it could be a horrible mistake.

        I worked at a company where someone was looking at this type of stuff in a conference room. The company installed a camera and busted the guy. The guy’s defense was he was a Christian man trying to prevent such things from going on…which is why he was looking for it. (Um, yeah.)

        If faced with having to work with someone who was arrested and waiting a court date, I would lay low, and only make work-based conversation when absolutely necessary. He’ll be lucky if he’s not harassed in one way or another at work or in his personal life.

      2. CdnAcct*

        Private browsing in Chrome and Firefox doesn’t mean that outsiders (Google, your IP, etc.) can’t track you, it just means your browser doesn’t keep the history so other people using the computer don’t see where you went. I think Lifehacker has done a few articles on this.

        1. The Real Ash*

          That’s what I meant, that your browser won’t track your history. I guess I should’ve used more words.

    3. Buu*

      Be more concerned about viruses, but uh really if you are so worried that the places you get your porn are dodgy, make sure you are using official licensed adult content rather than getting embarrassed and using dodgy pirate sites. At least those openly trading in adult stuff are regulated.

  44. Matt*

    I’m shocked at how many people over here agree on prematurely “shunning” this person without regards to the court proceedings. There are people, mentally healthy and stable before this happened to them, who committed suicide because of being wrongfully accused of such a crime and losing *everything* as a result. Job, home, even family if they don’t believe him … and an acquittal in court won’t mean you’ll get any of this back. Plus it’s a crime you can quite easily get wrongfully accused of by means of IT complications. To get suspected of robbing a bank, you need at least someone who claims to have seen you at wrong time / wrong place. To get suspected of child porn, it just needs your IP address to show up in the wrong log …

    1. Zillah*

      But this person has been arrested and charged with making and distributing child pornography, not just possessing it.

        1. Zillah*

          Absolutely. We can’t know what the truth is for the guy the OP wrote in about.

          I was responding to this part of Matt’s comment:

          Plus it’s a crime you can quite easily get wrongfully accused of by means of IT complications. To get suspected of robbing a bank, you need at least someone who claims to have seen you at wrong time / wrong place. To get suspected of child porn, it just needs your IP address to show up in the wrong log …

          He may not be guilty of the crime, but if he’s being charged with making and distributing child pornography, rather than just possessing it, it seems unlikely that the case hinges on IT complications similar to ones that commenters here have mentioned. A virus might download child pornography onto your computer, but it’s unlikely to create or distribute it.

          That still doesn’t mean he’s guilt, but I don’t see that particular explanation being viable here.

          1. Casey*

            That doesn’t make sense. For what reason would a virus “download” porn to your computer if not to distribute it? If some malicious software were storing porn on your computer I’d assume it was being used as an illicit distribution mechanism; just downloading on a hacked machine doesn’t serve any purpose.

  45. AlyciaB*

    Not that it isnt a terrible crime, it really isn’t any of your business. Coworkers with children would be wise to be mindful of the pictures of their children around and bringing their kids to the office but other than that what he may or may not have done is really no interest of yours. And keep in mind you don’t have all the facts. Maybe the girl told him she was 18. Maybe she wanted to be in porn. Assuming of course that the girl was a teenager of course. Age isn’t a fact you included in your story. However, I see a lot of stones being cast on this guy and no one knows the whole story. Best to keep away from him, treat him with respect if you must be around him, and go on with your life.

  46. anon all the way*

    At my former job, the situation that Alison describes above actually happened. However, he never returned to work because he was fired immediately by my former company. The evidence was overwhelming and my former company felt that it was in their best interests to not have him around. I wish I could say that I saw signs of his behaviors at work, but besides being a quiet individual, he never exhibited any signs. To this day, I have some guilt because I feel as if I was more observant maybe, I could have at least prevented a crime from happening. But I was a new employee at that point and since he never did anything at work, I had no way of knowing what was going on. But it was shocking to see him arrested and on the news. He’s still thankfully behind bars.

    1. The Real Ash*

      Like someone said up-thread, you cannot know who every single predator is, that’s how they operate. They are specifically kind, quiet, charming, affable, etc., because if they didn’t fly under the radar, they wouldn’t be able to commit crimes. Beating yourself up over the situation–even just a little bit–solves nothing.

  47. Mander*

    You know, maybe I’m just weird, but even if the guy *is* proven guilty I really don’t see why that is grounds not act in a civil and professional way towards him. I have a lot of sympathy for people who struggle with issues like paedophilia because the stigma makes it so difficult to get any kind of help. I can’t see how shunning a co-worker who has been accused makes the situation any better for anyone.

    This American Life had a really heartbreaking story on the subject recently if people are interested in hearing another view:

  48. Erin*

    My co-worker literally just emailed me this website as a resource for my “workplace snafus”. Perusing the recent articles, I came across this article, “my coworker was arrested for a horrifying crime and is returning to work”. I found the professional advice astonishing and completely inefficacious when the entire website is supposed to be based on knowledge from a “manager”. I understand personal feelings, but the individual who is responsible for providing workplace advice should provide workplace advice, not get personally involved, which seems to be the case here. The individual is INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty [period!]. After spending less than 10 minutes and reading only two articles, I am completely turned off by “Ask A Manager”. You should be ashamed.

    And P.S. Before anyone gets on their high horse, I am a victim of sexual abuse. However, I still know right from wrong.

  49. LD*

    You are certainly welcome to your own reactions and opinions. Note that your comment is very similar to what Ask a Manager said.

  50. Kathlynn*

    I know this doesn’t directly relate to the letter, as there is no indication of this person’s family life. But something similar happened to me, where my father was arrested at work (on the weekend). By Monday everyone at school knew about it, and school became worse. Kids who I weren’t even friends with asked me about it, and I lost friends.
    Point of this, teach your kids not to punish the innocents involved in the crime, since they are already dealing with a lot, they don’t need to be shunned because of their parents’ choices.

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