Accused of Bullying and Harassment

Question:

Please advise the following: I have recently been suspended from work on a bullying and harassment charge. This is the story: I have a new member of staff come on to my team. She is not new to the company just to my team. She actually personally requested to come to me.

I went on holiday and got a phone call saying this person has filled in a feedback form on the team and me. It was all negative. I emailed her asking her if she could shed some light on the comments. She told me she was sorry and wanted to retract what she had reported. I informed her I was disappointed with what she had put as she had only been with me a week and that I wished she would have talked it through with me if she had a problem and we will discuss when I get back. That’s all the content was in the email.

I arrive back in work on a Sunday at 7 a.m. Two senior managers were waiting for me, and they suspended me on the spot. They advised that it was over a bullying and harassment charge. I cannot tell you how devastated I am to be accused of this huge allegation. I have all sorts of insecurities at the moment whereas I have always been confident and run a successful close-knit team. Once this is over I don’t know even if I can return once my name is cleared because as they say mud sticks. I have been so far suspended for a week and have a grievance interview with two senior managers tomorrow. Please can you advise? Thank you

Signed,

Accused of Bullying and Harassment


Answer:

Dear Accused of Bullying and Harassment:

Tomorrow you are to be interviewed! You are stressed at being charged with bullying and harassment. I imagine that you have been upset all week and that it has escalated as tomorrow draws near. My few remarks will not be a quick fix for your anxiety; however, I hope they will help. Up front, you should know our site does not give legal advice and because harassment is a serious charge, especially if it is a charge of sexual harassment, you might need an attorney. First, is it possible for you to think of your self as the confident individual you were before this blew up interrupting your vacation? Look in the mirror and see yourself as the team leader you have been and want to be. Review in your mind what your team has accomplished and how you have been evaluated in the past.

Second, before the actual interview begins, inquire about the process. I think it wise for you to meet with these senior managers or Human Resources to request a written copy of the accusation. You can say that suspension is serious and you want to have a fair hearing, and therefore, think it is not fair until you get the specifics of the accusation Also, for such a meeting, it might be wise for you to request that you to have someone with you during this interview; possibly a union representative, the pastor of your church, a friend, or an attorney. It is quite late to request that, but you can ask that this meeting be postponed until you have a written statement of the charges and can make arrangements to have another person present to help you understand of what you are accused and what claims support that accusation. Third, at this late date, don’t lie awake reviewing everything that occurred between this woman and you. There will be time later for that. If you decide to go ahead with the interview without getting anything in writing before hand or having someone accompany you to the meeting, go there to learn what are the charges and evidence given. Don’t angrily defend yourself. Don’t react defensively, but honestly and coolly cooperate with those senior managers. Don’t admit to anything that you did not do. Answer their questions the best you can. Listen to what has they are saying and tell the story you have written us, not that you wrote Workplace Doctors; they don’t need to know that. If you are forthright and did not by word or deed bully or harass this woman, after listening carefully to what they say, explain that you feel unjustly accused. Tell them that this kind of accusation must be a misinterpretation of what occurred. Take notes of what the senior managers tell you caused them to suspend you. Jot down the language you used and the events that took place. Learn from them how long this suspension will continue. Seek their support in clearing you and helping you get back with your team.

Fourth, the goal of this investigation from both their and your point is to seek a just resolution to this accusation; hopefully one that will enable you to once again be a productive team leader. Depending on the details, you and possibly the senior managers can come to an agreement on what can best resolve it. If you made inappropriate remarks that were taken as bullying and harassing, you will have to decide if in fact you made them and if an apology will suffice. If they determine that discipline or firing is their resolution, you will have to decide if you want to fight it.

Since Monday is just around the corner, these few thoughts are enough to consider just now. Do approach this as an unwelcome event that leaders sometimes must face. Go at it as you would if you were the senior managers who must investigate. If they do not take accusations seriously, they will be held as responsible and guilty as would be an employee who has bullied and harassed. Don’t be a nervous wreck, endlessly repeating this accusation to family, friends, and other co-workers. Don’t badmouth the accuser or your company. Avoid gossip. If you say anything, talk to your self and others expressing your concern for your company, your team, your self, and even of the accuser. Does this make sense? Please feel free to get back to us. I will share what I am sending you with my associate Tina Lewis Rowe, whose advice I respect and who might send additional advice.

William Gorden