Falsely Accused of Harassment

Question:

I was called up today to face charges. A colleague who has been absent since a department meeting now claims I publicly harassed and humiliated her by asking who in her area was under performing.

She now alleges she cried through the rest of the meeting (unseen by me) and has found several witnesses to testify to my unfair treatment of her.

Signed,

Feeling Railroaded


Answer:

DearĀ Feeling Railroaded:

I can imagine you are concerned! Fortunately, it sounds as though there will be an investigation of the alleged incident. It also sounds as though this is the only allegation. So, perhaps your good reputation and the support of other employees will help you. The fact that your colleague has several witnesses who are going to testify that they think you were unfair to her is problematic of course. But, according to what they testify about, it might not have an effect on the outcome.

For example, if they simply think you should not have asked the colleague a question of that nature, that is just their opinion. If they all testify that you used a rude phrase and yelled, that would be different.

I would suggest you get a statement ready to allow you to have in writing something you can either submit in that format or that will help you put your thoughts into words.

Cover the following issues:

1. What led up to the questions by you? Explaining that might put it in a context that would explain why the colleague wants to get you in trouble.

2. Write the exact dialogue for what you asked and what she responded. Don’t say what you meant or what you think she meant, write the exact words. You might also want to describe the tones of voices of those involved in that conversation.

3. What did the colleague do after this interchange? She says she cried. What did you see her do? If she asked questions of anyone or made comments of any kind, note those. That way you can ask the investigators, whoever they are, to ask others if they heard her talking after the conversation with you and if she seemed to be crying.

4. Did anyone else at the meeting say anything to you then or later indicating they felt you said something inappropriate? If they did not, that would tend to lessen their credibility for saying you were unfair. I’m assuming the other people were not subordinate to you. If they were they may have felt they couldn’t say anything.

5. Have you had conflicts with this employee before? Have you had similar conflicts with other employees? Your history would be good to mention if you are known for getting along well generally.

6. Has this employee reacted emotionally to conversations with others before? That might be good to mention as well. What you’re after is something that you or others can review to get a clear picture of what happened.

Unless you have gotten in trouble before it seems unlikely that just asking a question, no matter how accusatory it was, would result in serious trouble now. So, it could be you are being called in about this mostly because management feels they can’t ignore it.

Stick to the truth and try to keep moving forward at work. Let the investigation take its course. There can’t be proof of something that didn’t happen. And, unless only you, the employee and her close friends who will lie for her were present, there are bound to be some who will testify you did not sound offensive.

Talk to your supervisor or manager, if that is considered appropriate during the investigation. Ask if they have feelings about your usual way of communicating and if you should change it to improve. That will also tell you something about your reputation.

I’m sure it will be awkward to work around the colleague who complained. Just be courteous when required but avoid other contact. Set the example for how to deal with such things.

Best wishes to you as you work through this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe