Accused of Spreading Rumors

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a warning: some of her co-workers who don’t like her because she is very good at her job and are jealous.

The temporary finance director of a company where my wife works was unsuccessful in getting the job permanently and was subsequently told that his services were not required any longer. My wife, who is the assistant to the new director has been accused of spreading the rumour that the reason her former boss (the temporary stand-in) is being let go is to pay the wages of her new boss. This is not true.

The chief executive officer met with my wife today and told her that she had heard this accusation from two sources. She gave my wife a warning and told her it is going in her personnel file. My wife is very good at her job and her new boss is happy with her work. She feels that she is being accused of this to get her to leave because she is one of the last people left that worked for the former full-time director. Also, there are some of her co-workers who don’t like her because she is very good at her job and are jealous. What can she do to get her name cleared of these accusations?

Signed, Wanting the Truth

Dear Wanting the Truth:

I edited your question to avoid providing too much information about the company where your wife is employed. I can certainly understand why your wife is upset and can see that it would have an impact on you as well. Someone once said, “Never chase a lie. It will run itself to death.” But, most of us want to feel we have been cleared of wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, there may be no way to prove for sure that she did not spread the rumor. She may have inadvertently said something that was misinterpreted or may have said something in jest. Or, as you believe, it could be a complete lie. However, if she really wants to clear her name she could ask HR (or ask her manager to ask HR) to conduct an investigation about it. They could interview everyone involved, talk to those who talked to the Chief Executive and require dates and times when your wife supposedly made those statements. They could talk to witnesses and anyone who could shed light on how the accusations got started. Then, they could produce a finding.

Sadly, that finding may be that they can’t prove anything one way or the other.The other drawback to that is that it was the Chief Executive who talked to your wife. That person may not like having her judgment questioned and might forbid having time spent on an investigation.

Here is the other concern: The Chief Executive must think it is within the realm of possibility that your wife would spread such a rumor. If she knew your wife well enough or had enough confidence in her to think that was a ridiculous idea, she probably wouldn’t have talked to her or made it official with a warning. So, it could be your wife should stay out of that person’s radar anyway.So, unless your wife knows of some way to do it, it doesn’t seem that there is anything she can do to completely clear her name beyond a doubt. She may want to talk to her boss about it and see if he or she has thoughts about it.

My suggestion is that your wife follow up this interview today with an email or memo to the chief executive and a copy to her own boss. It could say something like this: I wanted to send you this message to say again that I have never made the statements of which I have been accused. I wish there was as a way I could prove to you that I didn’t say those things, but I realize that is probably not possible. However, I am committed to continuing to show, through my performance and behavior, that I am highly professional, do not lie or gossip, and am a strong contributor to our company. I hope you will let my manager (the name of the director) know if you ever hear similar rumors, so he can investigate it and I can clear my name immediately. Sincerely,

She might word it completely differently, but that idea is to have something in writing to reiterate that she did not spread the rumor and to say that she is committed to showing her professional conduct.The thing she wants to avoid is talking to others at work about this situation, even to those who are sympathetic. That will just make it worse and will add to the impression that your wife spreads upsetting information.It sounds as though there are some general ill-feelings at work, with some people on one side and some on the other. A typical workplace! Your wife may be able to rebuild relationships with some coworkers and strengthen others. She may find she will always need to watch herself with some coworkers. That’s a shame, but it’s a fact of life.If she focuses on her work, keeps her conversations general and factual and tries to be a source of positive feelings rather than negative ones, this will die down and eventually will be a non-event.

Many people in work situations such as the one your wife has, find they do best by purposely communicating on three levels:

1. Closely and about work with her immediate manager and others at that level.

2. In a friendly but professional manner with a few trusted coworkers.

3. Brief, cordial interactions with everyone else, as though all of them are customers.By re-focusing and giving this situation a bit of time, your wife can feel she has not only overcome this but shown the kind of person she really is. Best wishes to her and you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.