Falsely Accused of Assault

Question:

In the locker room I was arguing with a fellow employee who’s been giving me problems on the job. During the arguement I told him to knock it off or I’d report the beer bottles in his locker, He walked out and told the boss I hit him. I didn’t, but my job is on the line. I have a witness who states this is not true.

Signed,

Falsely accused


Answer:

Dear Falsely accused:

You have two issues to deal with, it seems. First, to establish that you did not hit your co-worker. Second, to establish that the real problem is that there is an ongoing conflict that needs to be stopped once and for all.

Both of these require some written work on your part, but it is necessary to have it in order to present your case effectively.

The things you have to help you are these: A witness, and the fact that if there was no assault there will be no evidence of one. The co-worker could have claimed you hit him on the arm lightly or pushed or shoved him, but he wouldn’t have been able to show a red area, swollen or bruised area, or abrasions, which would have resulted if you had hit him with a fist, or slapped him.

You could point out that if you hit him with any kind of intent or force at all, it is doubtful he would have simply walked away, which apparently he did. And, witnesses would certainly have noticed a scuffle.

In addition, if someone thinks they have been assaulted, they would not walk out and make a complaint–they would run out yelling for help. If that didn’t happen, it would tend to indicate your co-worker did not think he was threatened or harmed.

Those are the kind of investigative issues that law enforcement would look for, and which you should mention if you have the opportunity. What seems to have occurred is a locker room back-and-forth argument, based on a long-standing conflict, that ended with angry words and threats by both people. Your co-worker felt he could protect himself from getting in trouble about the beer bottles, if he got you in MORE trouble over violence in the workplace.

Your best response is to write a memo, even before you are asked to do so, about all of this. If you have been asked for a statement already, write another one and send it to your supervisor as well. You are not limited to only responding the questions you have been asked about the incident. Most supervisors want to know the whole story.

Your memo should start with an overview paragraph that emphasizes your effective work overall. If you have had good relationships with most people, say so, and provide the names of people who can vouch for your ability to relate well to others. Even if you have not had great relationships, emphasize your efforts to at least not bother others unnecessarily.

Say that you are very concerned about your job, and want to tell your side of the story about this recent incident as well as the ongoing problem.

Then, start with the recent incident. State what led up to it. You might want to briefly describe the history of your conflict. You should mention how you have been made to feel by the actions of the co-worker. Then, say what happened in the locker room, clearly and concisely, but accurately. Quote exactly when possible. Describe a look on his face, if that is part of it. What you’re after is to give the reader a good picture of what was happening. Describe where your witness was during the time it was happening.

Specifically state what physical contact there was between the two of you. If you pushed him slightly away from you, be honest about that. Hopefully you are telling the truth when you say that you absolutely did not hit him or slap him. Reinforce it in your memo by saying specifically that you did not touch him, or that you did not, at any time, hit him.

State again that you believe his accusation was a way to ensure that you will not be able to report his drinking on the job. (If that is what you were implying.)

After you have told the whole story of this incident–and you want to keep it as short and to the point, but complete, as possible, so people will keep reading it–then, you can move into the larger problem.

State when the conflict started and what you have done to try to resolve it. If you’ve talked to co-workers, give their names. If you’ve talked to supervisors, say so, and when you did it.

If you have contributed to it in some way, you might consider being truthful about that, and saying that you have learned from that and haven’t been creating problems anytime recently. If you have tried to establish a positive relationship, say so as well.

At the conclusion of your memo, say that you welcome an investigation because you want the truth to come out. Repeat that you have had good performance evaluations and that you have people who will reinforce that you do not cause problems. Ask for the assistance of the supervisor and managers to not only investigate this to clear your name, but to help you find a solution to the problems that have been going on.

All of this assumes you really ARE not causing problems and that you really are a good employee! I can imagine it is frustrating and frightening to feel that your job is threatened when you didn’t do anything wrong. But, it is important to look at this clearly for yourself, so you can answer the questions you will be asked.

You can bet the other person will have another view–truthful or not. Be prepared for the accusations you think he will make. Line up witnesses in your mind, so you can give their names if asked. Be honest as you respond, but conclude each answer with the though that whatever has go on before, you want things to be better now. Make a personal commitment about that and ensure that your supervisor and manager knows that you will do your part.

If you have an employee organization, they may be able to assist you as well.

Workplace conflict can have very, very serious results, as we all know. Your managers are correct to be concerned about an accusation of assault. They can’t ignore it, without the possibility of serious problems for themselves at some point. But, if you have a witness, and can show that there is much more to this than the one encounter, that will help a great deal.

Best wishes. 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.