A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being accused
of starting a rumor at work.
Hi, I’m going to try and do this without names as I feel like I’ve been singled out for a witch hunt. I have been accused of starting a rumor about my supervisor (A) while she was on maternity leave. The rumor I am being accused of starting is that I said our manager (B) was unhappy with the work my supervisor(A) was doing and that she would be not welcomed back into our department. That the supervisor(A) would be re-positioned elsewhere or fired and replaced, and that a specific employee(C) would be taking on my supervisor’s(A) position.
I did not start this rumor. As far as I know my manager(B) cannot even do what this rumor is suggesting. Also, I didn’t even hear the rumor about employee (C.) My HR coordinator asked me into her office to close out the responsibilities that I had taken on while my supervisor (A) was on maternity leave and she asked me one question about that before launching into her inquiry about the rumor. I feel like I was ambushed and that she had already made up her mind that I was “guilty.”
HR says that she has talked to a number of people who have said I started the rumor. What can I do? My manager (B) recently tried to cut my hours down below 30/week, making me no longer eligible for full time, which I have been working for over a year. Also with the end of my maternity leave responsibilities my manager (B) had said that I would be given other work but then without saying anything to me, tried to cut my hours (aforementioned.)
Unfortunately I did gossip with the other staff but I started nothing! I feel as though I’m being pushed out? What can I do? What is the worst that these people can do to me? I feel like I’m being picked on for a fight that I don’t want to take part in. How do a respond/ deal with this? I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time. Thank you.
Hello and thank you for sharing this troubling situation with us. It appears there are several things going on—perhaps related but perhaps not.
One issue, apart from the rumor accusation, is that your manager wants to reduce your work hours. That may be the result of her being pressured from higher-ups to save money. Or, it could be because she thinks you started a disruptive rumor and she doesn’t want to reward you by giving you full-time work. Or, perhaps those issues have nothing to do with it. Maybe your work was not at the level she had hoped for, so she has decided she would rather not rely on you as a full-time employee, but will use you part time, to take some of the workload from others.
One way to discover her motivation, without asking her directly, is to think about when she first started talking about reducing your hours. Apparently this has been a looming threat for you for some time. You say that she tried to reduce your hours without talk to you about it, so I hope you discussed it with her then.
The second issue has to do with the serious problem of being accused by your HR Coordinator of starting a disruptive rumor. You ask: What might happen now and is there anything you can do to help yourself?
1. First, keep in mind that just because your HR coordinator has said she has talked to employees doesn’t mean she has really investigated the situation. She may hope by making such a statement that you will admit to something and she won’t have to investigate it. Stick to the truth about what you did do and what you didn’t do. She certainly has no proof, in the form of audio or video recordings, so she is going by what someone said (and maybe even third or fourth hand reports.)
Also, she may have mentioned it to you, knowing nothing more would be done, but wanting to informally reprimand you about it. Occasionally HR people will overstep what managers expected, so she may have been acting on her own. It’s a good thing you found out though, so at least you know what you are dealing with.
2. Apparently she didn’t say you might be fired over this matter. (It would be very surprising to do it, since gossip of this nature is fairly mild and very common.) If she did imply that, what I’m suggesting in #3 is very important. If not, still consider #3.
3. Consider writing a letter to the head of HR, copying your HR coordinator, or directly to HR, or to your manager, according to the culture of your organization. Ask for an investigation. Here is something you might write:
I was informed on XXX, by XXX, that I have been named as the source of a rumor about personnel issues involving Supervisor A, Manager B and Employee C. I am concerned that the allegation will have a negative effect on my employment status here and on my relationships with everyone involved. I am requesting that the situation be investigated further, to establish the truth.
I will make a written statement about every aspect of the situation and provide the names of those who I talked with and who talked to me, so they can also be asked for a written statement. I am confident you will find out that while I may have participated in commonplace office speculation about work, I have never gone to anyone implying I have inside information, nor have I repeated a rumor to someone, thinking they did not know it, just so I could spread it around.
I’ve learned a strong lesson from this and will never participate in those kinds of office conversations again. However, it is very important to me that Supervisor A and Manager B knows I did not start a rumor and I have not talked negatively about any of them. That is why, for the good of the office and to get to the truth, I am requesting a formal investigation of the matter.
Of course, a letter like that requires that you really did not imply you had some information about Supervisor A or that you did not go to people who you knew hadn’t heard the rumor, to tell them about it. You will need to reword parts of it, if that is the case. However, you still should ask for an investigation. (HR doesn’t have to do an investigation. It wouldn’t surprise me if they say they won’t, over something of this nature. But, it won’t hurt to ask—and it supports your statement that you didn’t start the rumors.)
If there are several people who will state that you have said negative things about Supervisor A or generally were negative about the workplace, you will have to deal with that. I hope it isn’t true and I hope the most anyone will say is that you discussed things just as they did.
It sounds as though your HR Coordinator wanted you to know she and others (probably your manager) are displeased that you started or spread a rumor, but no formal disciplinary action is planned. If the HR Coordinator said more would be happening about it, then you certainly do want an investigation.
A final thought has to do with the overall situation there. I don’t know anything about it, of course, so I may be incorrectly reading between the lines. However, it does seem to me that if you were well thought of there and were considered to be credible and valuable, this would not be happening in this way. It may be that the entire situation is the culmination of a series of things that have created a negative picture of you to others.
If you feel you have been wrongly judged about your work or your attitude or anything else, perhaps this will be a time when you can rebuild and strengthen relationships. If you keep your job (and it sounds as though you will), you will be able to overcome all of this in a relatively short amount of time, if you focus on your work, on being a good office team member and on presenting yourself as someone who is not open to gossip-huddles.
Right now I’m sure it seems that everything is negative and depressing. However, if you still have your job, you have a ready-made ladder to climb out of all of this and come back better than ever. I’ve seen it happen over and over in my career. In fact, once someone has gotten in trouble, if they apologize and come back on a positive note and show themselves willing to move forward, supervisors and managers are so happy to have the negative things over with, they will commend the employee more than they might do it for the employee who has had no problems. I refer to that as the Prodigal Son Effect and I’ve seen it played out dozens of times.
So, my advice is to ask for a further investigation, keeping the tone that you want the truth to be known and that you are sorry for your role in any of it. Don’t be angry or hostile about it, just adamant that you may have engaged in some mild office gossip, but you have never set out to start a rumor. Whether or not the investigation is done and whatever the result, end it by saying you are sorry you ever allowed yourself to get involved in the situation and it will not happen again. Then, get to work and be the employee you know you can be—the one who is so valued you are considered one of the strongest members of the team and are asked to work full-time very soon.
If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out. I’ll be thinking of you and wishing you the best.
Ask the Workplace Doctors