Accused, Suspended, and Framed?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an accusation and suspension:

My sister is being framed for something she hasn’t done at work. They’ve accused her of sharing personal data with an ex employee of the ex employees file. The ‘evidence’ they have is CCTV showing my sister behind the counter and the ex employee on the other side with a piece of paperwork between them unclear on CCTV. My sister believes that the paperwork was the ex employees CV/interview paperwork from a job interview she had that day and nothing to do with her personal file.

A manager from the store, separate to the company, has allegedly witnessed my sister with the employee and brought this to my sister’s boss’ attention. Since then, she has been suspended from work. This is all convenient as my sister has had issues with her boss, who is in her 40’s, as she was telling other managers and members of staff my sister was bullying her and has accused other employees of this as well.

My sister is 20 years old and has not done this either. She has reported her issues with HR and to her manager’s manager and nothing has been done to resolve this. In addition to this, her boss has told other members of staff that someone will be sacked in the coming weeks and conveniently has now been framed and suspended from work. Is there anything she can do legally to prove she is being framed or sort this out?
Signed —Sister Suspended

Dear Sister Suspended:

Your sister is fortunate to have your support during this unhappy interruption in her career. It’s natural to wonder if there might be a legal answer to what strikes you as an injustice. However I doubt there is a way to legally prove she’s being framed. You might consult a local attorney, perhaps with phone call to learn if she might have a case. If the attorney says yes, then decide what are the next steps to take and what legal help will cost. If an attorney thinks your sister has a case, get in writing fees and procedure. Some attorneys will take a case on a contingency of no charge if a case is lost and a third percent if it is won.

Our site answers workplace communication problems, not legal. What is the best thing for your sister to do during this time? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Ask her to edit what you have described in your question to us and in her own words (not yours) type out what occurred before this specific event, what she was doing at the exact time of the time when she supposedly transmitted confidential information, and who could have witnessed it.
  2. Follow up her meeting with HR, a request for a thorough investigation, and she should assert her innocence if she is sure she has done nothing wrong. Ask that unless HR can state there is solid proof of wrongdoing that she should  be asked to return to work with a clean record. Should she have made a mistake, she should apologize for not knowing what to do correctly and request what to do next. Avoid accusing anyone of framing her, avoid talking with coworkers or friends about this, and avoid venting on Facebook or in emails. This is not a time to be sour. Also probably this is a time to meet with her boss for an eye-to-eye talk about her performance–about what she does well and what needs improvement.
  3. From what you say, your 20 year-old sister is in an unfriendly work environment, and her best recourse might be to vote with her feet. Use this time off to think through what she has learned from this experience and where she might work that would enable her to use her talents and to make a contribution. Shape her resume with positive projects completed and with brief descriptions of job skills. Possibly this will be a time to complete her training and rethink her career direction should she be fired. Most importantly, don’t quit and allow this event to become an excuse for withdrawing from earning a living wage. She can find work where she can feel positive about herself and that has values and procedures when such accusations happen. There are good workplaces that are seeking skilled employees.
  4. Suggest that your sister review our archive of questions and answers. They cover a wide range of what can go wrong. Learning what to expect and how to cope–forewarns and forearms her as she continues work where she is and looks to her future.

Please continue support of your sis. Help her to frankly assess this situation and to plan for better times. She is more than what she is at work. Help her realize her worth outside of where she works–what is enriching such as music, workouts, volunteering tutoring, cooking, friendships and family.

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS–my signature sentence suggests there can be better times ahead with a positive attitude and effort.  I hope these thoughts make sense to you and that you will report good things to us within a week or two. Would that all sisters cared about their sisters as do you.–William Gorden