What Should I Do About A False Allegation?

A question to Ask The Workplace Doctors
about being falsely accused at work. 

Question:
What do you do when a disgruntled employee makes a very serious false claim/lie about you to IR which in turn communicates to HR and EEC officer?

Response: I may not have all of the initials in your question translated correctly, but I think my suggestions will be helpful anyway.

Apparently you are a supervisor or manager and an employee complained to a your state’s Industrial Relations Board, about something you said or did, that he or she considered to be mistreatment, unfairness or unethical or biased behavior.

The IR Board reported the matter to your organization’s Human Resource section. I think an EEC officer would refer to ethics but might be equal employment. The bottom line is that an employee has made a serious allegation about you and you are worried about the outcome and want to know what to do about it.

1. One thing that will help you throughout this process is to keep your composure about the situation and do not talk about it to anyone other than the people responsible for investigating it or someone you have asked for assistance about it.

Don’t talk to other employees or even to fellow supervisors, except to say that you are sorry for the conflict and you are cooperating fully with the investigation. If you express anger or make negative comments about the employee or the process, those can be repeated and you will have an even more difficult time. Or, you will try to explain what actually took place and that can be repeated with a twist. If you have already talked about, just back-off now and don’t let others get you going again.

It may be that there will be no formal investigation, because HR has other facts to go on. But, my experience has been that if someone makes an untrue allegation, it is valuable to have it investigated thoroughly, to get the truth out in the open. It is one way to hold people accountable for their false accusations.

2. Having said that, I should also note that if you did, in fact, say or do something, even inadvertently, that would be a violation of policy or procedure or that appears to be problematic, you might as well acknowledge it, give your viewpoint about it, apologize, say that it won’t happen again and count on your good work history to assist you. It would have to be a very, very severe violation to merit dismissal, so probably even if you were in error, you would not receive a major sanction.

3. Whether there is no truth to any of the allegations or a bit of truth, but not as bad as alleged, just follow the instructions you receive from any organizational unit who is investigating the matter. If you are asked for a statement or interviewed, respond readily and courteously. Your attitude and behavior during the investigation will be noted and probably at least casually reported.

4. If the complaint is about something you allegedly said, write the actual dialogue as nearly as you can remember it, word for word. Next to the sentences spoken by each of you, write a note to describe the tone of voice or facial expression, if that would make a difference in how the sentence is interpreted. In that way, you will have the exact words in writing, without having to try to repeat them exactly the same way when you may be more nervous about it.

List every witness to the event and where they were standing, as a way to differentiate between those who only saw the aftermath, but didn’t hear your words or the words of the other person.

5. If the complaint is about something you did administratively or related to job directions, promotions, assignments, days off or other employment situations, document everything you did. Make copies of files or reports, take a photo of an area, as a way to show it more clearly to anyone who talks to you about it.

If the complaint involved some aspect of using machinery or being trained about it, use your phone to video the machine in operation. For example, a supervisor videoed a loading dock as a way to show a complaint board the kind of noise he was dealing with and why he yelled loudly at an employee. It was very effective and he was cleared of wrongdoing.

6. You can see by #3, #4 and #5, that I’m suggesting that you assist the person who is going to investigate this matter, if there is going to be an investigation. If you are a supervisor, demonstrate to them that you are not angry at them or the system, because you understand their role and yours.

7. Talk to your manager, if that is comfortable for you to do, given the work environment or culture of the organization, and ask for his suggestions. He may have experience with the same thing and can talk to you about what to expect next.

8. Focus on your own good work. If there is some aspect of the situation that you would do differently, if you had it to do over again, put those better habits into practice now. Quite often, in some work environments more than others, the culture becomes one of “We get the work done and sometimes we have to talk tough to do it.” Or, “I have a job to do and I can’t always make everyone happy.” Those may be true statements, but they are often used to excuse rudeness or unnecessarily riding roughshod over employee. Or, they are used to excuse a lack of compassion or a lack of fairness.

If you are already doing an excellent job of supervision, just keep at it. The employee who complained about you may still feel anger toward you or he may wish he hadn’t made the complaint. Either way, you are still responsible for his well-being. Treat him with respect and civility and show him and others that you can move forward and past this.

Best wishes to you as this unfolds. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors