Suspended Without A Chance To Defend Myself

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about suspension:

I was brought up to a meeting with three of my peers. The GM, supervisor and controller were sitting there with my file plus a document on top with my name on it. There were written accusations about me, saying that I have done things to my coworkers. I never got to see what or by who this was coming from other than there was an investigation and now I am faced with a three day suspension without pay. It didn’t matter what I had to say, it was done. How can an investigation go on when you know nothing of the situation? Now I fear not only am I being set-up but fear that I cannot do anything right. Can they do this? I am supposed to return to work in three days. How do I handle this situation when I feel all alone??

Signed, Feeling Attacked

DearĀ Feeling Attacked:

I can imagine that you felt beat-down after that meeting. The usual practice is to talk to everyone involved in a conflict situation as a way to know all the facts. However, sometimes if there is plenty of evidence (emails, statements from many witnesses, statements by supervisors, etc.) the decision is made that no matter what the employee says, there is no acceptable excuse. Another reason to suspend is if the employee has been warned before about a behavior issue, so the next incident is taken more seriously, especially if it’s exactly like what happened previously.

It sounds as though no matter what you said they didn’t believe you or didn’t agree with your view of things. I have to be honest though and say that if you have a reputation for getting along with everyone and being a supportive, friendly and cooperative person, I doubt that you would be accused of anything serious enough to merit a suspension. So something must have happened that was very upsetting to many people. You might not intend to upset others or offend them, but it would be hard to get three people at a supervisory or managerial level to blatantly lie about such a thing. I’m not saying you did something wrong or did something wrong on purpose, just that I think something must have been said, written or done by you, that was perceived by others as being a serious violation of a rule or a policy.

I think you can probably be grateful that you were not dismissed, because a three day suspension is rather severe.You’ll be returning to work in three days. I’m sure your mind will in a turmoil for a lot of that time. I hope you will be able to rest a bit and move forward. I also hope you will make a promise to yourself that you will show your managers and coworkers that they were mistaken about you. When you return, see if you can just say a few words to your supervisor to let her know you are back and that you want to do a good job without any problems in the future. Try something like this: “Sandy, this has been a really tough three days for me, because I left here feeling really down. But, while I was off I promised myself that I would come back and show that I’m a better person than some people might think I am. If there’s something you notice me doing or not doing that I should change, I hope you’ll tell me right away and not let it build up. I don’t want to feel that I’m never going to be able to change your opinion of me, so I hope you’ll give me a chance to do that.”

If you take the approach that, whatever happened, you want to do well in the future, I’ll bet your supervisor and others will go out of their way to help you and support you.There is no point in debating whether or not the suspension was correct. It happened and it’s over. To question it now would be like questioning the competence of your managers. So, just figure it was a bad time and you never want to experience it again.While you’re at it, think about the way you are viewed by others.

I often advise people to consider how they are viewed by those who dislike them the most. That’s better than thinking about the opinions of those who are your best friends. You don’t have to change everything about yourself, but it never hurts any of us to be more moderate about the way we talk and act. Even if you don’t know all the details of the investigation I imagine you at least have an idea of who you haven’t been getting along with or about a conflict you recently had.Use that situation as a way to prevent anything like it in the future.

Make a point of staying focused on your own work and doing it well. Be courteous to others even if you don’t like them and don’t feel like being a pal. Be supportive of people who ask for help or need help. Take part in meetings and be a cheerful team member. Those are all ways to show people that you are working at being a great coworker.Probably some of the employees have done things that bothered you as well. If that happens again, talk to your supervisor before you do something back. If it’s not important enough to talk to your supervisor, consider that it is one of the downs of the ups and downs of work, and keep your focus.Use these three days to do something very productive at home. Maybe you can exercise more than usual or start a more healthy eating program. You might organize your storage unit or clean the house thoroughly.

Whatever you do that is worthwhile will help you go back to work feeling that you are ready to deal with it.You might also want to talk to someone you like and trust and tell them the complete story, including anything you said or did that was taken the wrong way, if that is what happened. They know you and might be able to advise you more specifically. At least they could be a sympathetic ear! Just don’t spend all the time talking about how unfair it is. Spend some time talking about your plans to make things better. Best wishes to you about all of this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how it works out.

Follow-up question: Now that I have taken the past three days to reflected lick my wounds, I have done a little bit of research on my own and have asked an employment lawyer for some free consultation. I explained my situation and was told that I am being set up for termination. I am having a very difficult time with having to return to work knowing this could happen. I know that there are things that I may have done wrong and I do not have a problem with accepting or taking my punishment for that. I do have a problem with accepting punishment for something that I have NOT done.I do not know how I am supposed to ask for a rebuttal on going through all accusations and saying yes to or not and asking for them to be taken off my file. The next thing is how to deal with my coworkers face to face, knowing that they are doing and saying things behind my back. I know there is a professional way to handle this, I am just not familiar with dealing with these kind of people as well. It is very apparent I will not be able to or say anything without it being misinterpreted.

Follow-up response:I don’t think you are being “set up” to fired. That would imply that no matter what you do they’re looking for a way to fire you. But, it does sound as though your managers are wanting to send a strong message and it’s probably the last warning before dismissal, if they feel you are involved in another problematic situation.It’s almost certainly too late to argue about the last sanction. That’s over and done with unless you find proof that someone lied. Proof of that is usually impossible to find and it can create more problems for you if you start accusing coworkers of lying without proof.Your best action, as I mention in my first response, is to come back to work and focus on your own work.

Express your sadness about the whole situation to your manager and ask for his assistance in getting back to where you were before all this happened. Then, be willing to listen and take his advice, even if you don’t agree with his viewpoint.As for dealing with your coworkers, they will feel awkward too. Just do your work and let time take care of the rest. You say you may have done some wrong things. If that is the case, spend your time making sure you don’t do those things again so your future can be less hopeless sounding to you. If it is really true that you can’t possibly improve things in everyone’s eyes, then you’ll need to find other work at some point. However, until that becomes necessary, you may as well stay where you are and look for ways to heal the situation. Developing a better working relationship with your manager may be the best way to start. Best wishes to you.

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.