Falsely Accused of Hostile Behavior at Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about subordinate’s  performance: During the days I was out, the admin. filed a complaint with HR about me stating she is intimidated by me and views this as a hostile work environment.

I hired an admin. asst. in July and her work performance has not been good. She received a performance evaluation in December and I had HR sit in on the evaluation as the evaluation was not good. The admin was to receive a follow up evaluation at the end of March but the HR Manager left and a new one was not hired yet. When the new one was hired, I asked to meet with her regarding the employees work performance and for her to review the original evaluation and the follow up evaluation. She made a suggestion that I should write out what the admin. does that is good and what needs improvement. I did and sent it to her for review and then I was out for 3 days.

During the days I was out, the admin. filed a complaint with HR about me stating she is intimidated by me and views this as a hostile work environment. Upon my return I was called in to HR to explain the accusations about my behavior which were lies. I also warned my boss and the former HR manager that this employee would file something against me because I was holding her accountable for her work and she didn’t like that. The new HR manager has reassigned the Admin to report to someone else in the department which is fine but we have a very small department and constantly have to interact. My fear is that she is not going to stop with the accusations. I’m waiting for her to say I make her feel uncomfortable or I look at her in the wrong way.

I have been with the company for 10 years and never had a problem with anyone. I found out that this admin. did the same thing at her last job and was eventually fired. I feel as if I’ve already been found guilty for something I didn’t do. We’re just about the same age and I have never done anything mean or condescending. It’s not in my nature. I’ve asked for an investigation to the accusations and have received no response. I don’t want any interaction with this admin. as I feel she is now setting me up. I don’t know what to do and HR is doing nothing.

Signed, Worried and Upset

Dear Worried and Upset:

This is an unfortunate situation in that not only do you feel you are being falsely accused, but it sounds as though the administrative assistant was never required to improve her work, only reassigned to work under the supervision of someone else. At least you are no longer dealing with her; and hopefully her new supervisor will require her to perform effectively. But, I can see how you might worry about it and also resent being accused without a chance to have the accusation investigated.

You don’t say what your manager, the person to whom you report, has said to you about this. Ensure that you are working with that person and use him or her to assist you and support you. It doesn’t sound as though you have been viewed as handling it wrongly, it’s just that your HR director has chosen to resolve the complaint by reassigning the complaining employee. Or, maybe the culture of your organization is that any accusation by an employee about a supervisor is handled by reassignment. Apparently there wasn’t enough reason for dismissal or a Performance Improvement Plan, if your company uses those, and it was felt that something had to be done to ease the conflict. Whether or not that approach is effective is debatable because it often leaves things unresolved, as in this situation.

You think that HR is doing nothing, but it could be they have essentially done something by not correcting you for the work you did. They may feel the matter is dropped. However, I think you should, on your own or by working through your manager, contact HR to verify that you do not have anything in your personnel folder about this and that you will not receive a negative mark on your own performance evaluation. Ask what is the status of the investigation or ask if you were exonerated of wrong-doing. As for worrying about what she might do next, try not to let that tie you in knots.

Do not talk negatively about her to anyone, so it can’t be said you are gossiping. Put most communications in email if you can. Then, focus on your own work. Since you are no longer her supervisor she is not likely to feel that you are a threat. At least HR knows of the history. If you think something is developing that could result in a problem, talk to your manager or HR about it and get some advice. Often, when these type of things happen, if the manager continues to perform correctly and treats everyone fairly, it demonstrates he or she was unfairly accused. Often the complaining employee shows his or her true colors and ends up leaving or having a negative reputation. So, stay focused and stay strong. Best wishes to you.

Tina Lewis Rowe