Falsely Accused of Bullying

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about bullying accusation:

I am being accused of bullying at work. An employee asked me if I needed help and I said “No thanks, I’m OK.” Another situation by the same person is, she came to my work area and she was insisting on something. After many times I had told her it was OK. Another worker came in and when she saw that, the person already with me starting crying. I said to both, “Please, I have a headache and I rubbed my forehead with my hands and asked them to please continue the conversation outside because I had a headache.These are the two examples she gave to HR as bullying behaviour. Is she right? How can I defend myself?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

The best way to defend yourself is to tell the truth about what happened and to identify anyone who has ever observed you with the person who complained. If no one has heard or seen you behave in a bullying way, HR is less likely to believe the accusations.I assume you are a manager and the person involved reports to you. I can understand you telling someone you don’t need help. I don’t understand why you would tell people to talk outside because you have a headache. Managers talk to employees, with or without a headache, so that might have seemed to be rude to them. Essentially you said, “Go away!” Still, that doesn’t equal bullying, unless there was much more to it than what you describe.That’s why I think you should let the situation work through. Don’t try to talk to the employee about it, so as not to appear to be trying to coerce her. Just be civil and courteous to everyone.

I do think you should talk to your own manager and find out how he or she views your approaches to people. I would imagine, given what you describe, that you could improve your communication habits, both verbal and written. Be open to advice and let your manager know you want to improve if that is needed. But, you can also say that in the cases mentioned, you don’t think you were bullying or trying to intimidate the employee, make her feel demeaned or keep her from succeeding. Hopefully you have a good reputation for getting along well with people and this accusation will be investigated and found to not be accurate. I know it’s frightening to deal with, but there is nothing you can do until the investigation is completed. If there is no evidence, you won’t have to worry at that point. If there is evidence, the sanctions may be mild and you may have the chance to apologize and move forward. How you handle being investigated may have a lot to do with the outcome, so keep a positive approach to it and welcome the chance to tell the truth as you see it. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe