Falsely Accused of Bullying

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about accused of bullying:

I am a manager in a supermarket. One employee has put in his notice, accusing me of bullying him and demeaning him. There is no truth in this at all, but now the employee is taking the matter to a lawyer. The employee was treated no differently than other members of staff. Any advice?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

Your HR staff and likely a company attorney will be contacting you about this, if it does become a matter of litigation. But, the fact that the former employee has an attorney does not necessarily mean there will be a lawsuit. You need to be prepared however. So, since you know there might be problems, this is the time to be putting together all of your documentation. You should have written records of any commendations, corrective counseling, special projects, and other things that can show the work of the former employee and how you responded to it, compared to other employees. You will also want to ensure that HR has all of the performance appraisals for the employee.This can show that you did, in fact, commend the employee and others, or if you reprimanded the employee, you have done the same things with others. It will also show the positive and corrective things you have noted on performance appraisals.If you have witnesses to interactions that you think might have been considered demeaning or inappropriate, gather those names to give to an investigator. If you have witnesses to positive interactions with the employee, list those as well.

But, do not contact those people and line up their stories. That could be viewed as attempting to tamper with witnesses. The less you say about this, the better–except to those conducting the investigation, if there is one.I should point out that the fact the employee was not treated differently than others, does not prove he or she was not treated wrongly. It could be that other employees would agree that they, too, have been bullied or demeaned! This would be a good time to review your supervisory style, to see if there are any areas in which you need to improve or make changes. You may be perfectly OK about everything. But nearly always when a charge such as this is made, there has been something said or done that ends up being debatable.Nearly always the person who said something or did something, says it was in fun, or it wasn’t meant badly, or it was taken out of context. And, nearly always the person making the complaint viewed it as being a personal attack. The key will be what was happening at the time, who heard it, what the complainant said or did at the time, and what happened afterwards.If you can show you have a long record of treating people with respect, and not having negative habits like yelling, saying threatening things, making fun of people, picking on weak or problem areas in a bad way, or anything else that could be seen as bullying or demeaning, you will be fine. Even if you have occasionally used poor judgment about your actions or conversations, but you can show that you have done many other positive things, you will still probably be OK.Hopefully the former employee is only threatening, and has nothing to back up the threat. I know this is an unnerving experience, no matter how innocent you are. This will be a good time to ensure you are maintaining and strengthening relationships with those around you.

Wait to find out if your company wants to get information from you, then be ready if they do. If they don’t, work to learn from this experience and see if there was any aspect of your supervisory style that might have created even some tiny bit of this problem. Then, try to stay focused on your work, as well as finding things away from work that can help you relax, so you don’t let yourself get too stressed over this issue.Best wishes as you deal with this concern. 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.