Falsely Accused and Warned

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about false write up insubordination, hostile work environment and talking bad about the store:

I was written up yesterday for insubordination, hostile work environment and talking bad about the store I work for.This is all false. I have never been insubordinate. I have always done what they want me to do. I ask questions why but am always told “because I said so”I asked the one boss what it meant by me causing a hostile work environment and she said “I have no idea what they are talking about. You perform your job well and make it a happy environment.”I have never talked or threatened to cause the store harm by talking bad about the store. Please tell me what I can do.I think the director is mad because of a statement I made back in October of 2010 and she is trying to get back at me for it.

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

I’m sure this is very upsetting for you. This will be a long response, but let me see if I can give you some suggestions that might at least help you move forward from here.We have exchanged some emails to clarify your questions, so I will use some of that information in this response.

1. This seems to be the timeline: In October you made a negative remark about a new boss, which was repeated to her. You were called in and talked to about that.A week later you were talked to again about the same thing, this time with a more reprimanding tone.Now, here in January, you’ve received a written warning saying you are viewed as having been insubordinate and that you have talked badly about everyone at work. You’ve been told that you have two weeks to improve.That means there is an “Or else….” Probably that means they are implying you will be dismissed if this continues. That’s very scary, no doubt about it!The next few items on the list have to do with this recent written warning.

2. You told me you refused to sign the warning because it was lies. Let me reiterate, not only for your benefit but for the benefit of readers, that when you are asked to sign a written warning or a disciplinary action, you are only being asked to sign that you received it.That is so something can’t be put in your personnel records and you later say, “I never saw that!” So, it’s for your protection and the protection of the organization. It is not an admission of guilt.Failure to sign often looks sulky and insubordinate in itself. So, if you were being warned about being insubordinate and negative, it just adds to their feelings that you don’t want to cooperate. Right or wrong, that is the way it would look to an outsider.If this ever happens again, and we’ll hope it doesn’t, go ahead and sign the warning or other disciplinary action and put next to your name, “My signature is to verify I received the document but not an admission of guilt.” (Or something similar you want to write.)

3. In some businesses with an HR section you can ask to put an explanation and rebuttal in your file. Your company is a bit different than that and you know it best. But, it is something to consider. I think you will probably be better off to wait and do that in the future when this has calmed down.

4. You said, in follow-up, that your immediate supervisors told you they didn’t agree but were told they had to give you the warning anyway. As nice as that sounds of them, I don’t think they helped you much with that.They would have helped you better to not make you feel more negative about the boss, but instead told you some specific things you could do to improve the situation. However, if they really do think you are being set up, I hope they will have the courage to support you in the future.

5 The big question is, what can you do now to save your job and rebuild your good feelings about work?First, use your worry about this situation to help you accept that whether you agree or not, you are going to have to change some aspects of your communications and behavior. You don’t have to agree that you should, you only need to know that you must.Since you don’t know what you were thought to have done wrong since the October event, think instead of what you know to be OK in any work environment. Also think about what you know reasonably could create problems.*It is always appropriate to smile and greet coworkers and others. It’s always appropriate to say please and thank you. You won’t get in trouble for asking how to do a task if you have tried to do it and don’t know how.*It will always create problems to have a stubborn or disrespectful tone and question why you need to do something when you have clearly been told to do it.You say you ask why on some things. I agree with the concept that employees work best when they know the why of things. But often all the “Why?” means is, “I don’t agree.”There is never a good way to tell a boss you don’t want to do something because you don’t agree. And there is never a good way to make a boss stop to explain his or her reasons to you before you will do something.You will need to drop the “Why” questions and move on with your work.*It is always appropriate to look and act as business-like as possible. Attire, hygiene, cleanliness and tidiness should be top-notch. The way you talk to people should be business-like too.You mentioned that you were told you always make a happy work environment. That may be true. But, the things you have done to make others happy may not have been viewed that way by others.For at least a month or so, until this calms down, stick to being business-like and friendly, not a jokester or a cheerleader.Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking joking, laughing loudly, teasing, and acting like pals with people at work is always good. That’s not always the case. The things that make some people happy offend others. Many people take jokes badly. Some people are hurt or resentful when coworkers team up and they are left out.Again, I’m not saying this is all your fault. What I’m saying is, if you want to rebuild from here, accept that whatever your usual style, you need to moderate that and stick to being a friendly person who lets others stand out while you stay out of the limelight.In another two weeks you’ll be meeting about this and you want everyone to be able to report that everything about your behavior and performance has been perfect.*It is always appropriate to talk about pleasant things or about how to improve effectiveness. It always has the potential to cause problems to say or do things that imply criticizing. Even a tone of voice can do that.For example, a young man I know has been put on probation for repeatedly responding to instructions with rolled eyes and a “Whatever.” His boss finally got tired of it. I think his boss should have said something the first time the employee acted rude, but he didn’t. Now the employee is saying he always DID the thing he was told, he just said “Whatever” as a joke.However he says now that he meant it, it wasn’t appropriate and he should have done what he was told without saying anything.So, monitor your facial expressions and tone of voice as well as your words. At least for the next few weeks, do it as way to keep your job. Then, see if that hasn’t worked better all the way around.By all of these things I’ve mentioned, I’m not saying you have to change everything about yourself. But, if you want to keep your job you will need to ask yourself, “What will I need to do more of, less of and never do again?”That brings me to this next thought.

6. You seem to have a good relationship with your two closest supervisors. Ask to talk to one of them at a time, in a private setting or off to the side. Take the approach that the warning is in the past and you aren’t going to keep talking about whether it is fair or not. It’s a reality now, so the important thing is what to do to make it only a warning and not part of a dismissal. Instead, take the approach that you have always wanted to be a good employee and that is all you want to be in the future. Say that anything else is a misreading of what you have said or done. However, you are going to keep moving forward and show everyone that you are a great employee and won’t let this make you bitter.Just saying that kind of thing can give your supervisors something positive to say when they meet with you and their boss again in a few weeks. Don’t let the conversation become negative. Keep it on the high road. Promise that you are going to be your best. Ask them if they have any suggestions for you. If they say no, tell them to let you know if they hear or see you doing anything that could be a problem. But you also would appreciate it if they mentioned your efforts in meetings with the boss.

7. When coworkers want to talk to you about all of this, just say this has been a upsetting time, but you want to keep moving and not get stuck with the past. Don’t say you were lied about or that it isn’t fair, just talk about moving forward. You may even want to tell your closest coworkers that if they hear or see you doing anything that could be considered a problem to tell you before you come across in a way that isn’t what you meant.That is important because probably someone in the past two months has reported things you’ve said or done. For the next few months you want there to be nothing to report except that you have been pleasant, provided good service to customers and been positive about everything.Use your work time in the best way. Between customers, tidy up or clean your work area. In the break room, talk about sports, the weather, the children of coworkers or other topics not related to complaints about work, even mild ones.

8. The bottom line is that you have a few weeks in which to show that you have changed. You may not know what to change exactly, but you can make sure you are as pleasantly business-like as you would be on your first day in a new job.10. The final thing is to be ready for the next meeting. Be prepared to talk about how worried you’ve been and that you want to keep your job. So, even though you didn’t think you had done anything wrong, you’ve gone out of your way to make sure you haven’t said or done anything that could easily be misunderstood.Think about this: If anyone thinks you were wrong before, this type of speech and behavior will make them feel that their actions to correct you had good results. If anyone thought the warning was unfair, this kind of speech and behavior will make them support you even more.You have nothing to lose by making an effort to be flawless in your talk and actions. You have a heck of a lot to gain.

10. You asked if you should get an attorney. There isn’t anything here that you describe that would reach to that level, in my opinion. It is a standard employer-employee action, which they legally can do.Your best resource will be your supervisors and friends there who you ask to let you know if it seems you are going down the wrong path with anything at all. In closing, let me say that it sounds as though your second level boss could be a bit or a lot problematic for you and others. But, knowing that, if you want to keep your job you will need to work both with her and for her. Keep your eye on the prize–your paycheck and your reputation.

Best wishes to you as you continue to work through this. Draw on your inner strength and the maturity that has gotten you good results thus far.If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens with this, especially after the next formal meeting. You can get through this and come out OK!

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.