What Rights Do I Have On False Gossip?

Question:

We are a group of 12. We have an amazing team. We are all from different backgrounds and cultures. One of our girl employees has been spreading accusations of sexual harassment against a male employee on our team for the past month or so. Well, this girl has found another girl on our team to take sides with her, and now this other girl is saying that employee has done something to her. These two girls are always texting each other and meeting in the bathroom and gossiping.

The rest of us did not take sides and we really like this man that is being accused. Now the two girls don’t like the fact that we continue to talk to this person. We have never seen or heard this man do anything to harass them. When one girl told a manager, the other one backed out. The next business day one of my co-workers said something to me, and I responded, “We need to be careful what we say because other people can take it out of context.” The girls were mad and said I was_____. I was called in the office and was told that I have been saying comments about them. I believe they are retaliating because we did not pick sides. These two girls are constantly talking about him and trying to get us all involved.

Can our jobs be on the line? I was told this is going to hr but that I am not in trouble. We would only be fired if we continue to say anything about this after we are addressed. What do I do??? Should I prepare a letter before I go back to work and get called in to meet? Do I reveal names of other co-workers who have also witnessed these girls’ accusations? We are all so worried for this man who has been nothing but a gentleman to all of us.

Signed,

Worried


Answer:

Dear Worried:

Accusation of sexual harassment is a serious matter; a matter that management is duty bound to investigate. What I understand from your description, someone in authority has been informed of the accusations. You say, “When one girl told a manager, the other one backed out.” You also say, “I was called in the office and was told that I have been saying comments about them.” You don’t say how you responded to this, but you add, “I was told this is going to hr but that I am not in trouble.” I don’t know what you mean by “hr”? Probably the implied message is that you should stop talking about this matter until and unless you are brought in to be interviewed about this matter by those officially assigned to investigate it. They are the ones to determine what are the facts. Your instinct was wise to have said to a co-worker, “We need to be careful what we say because other people can take it out of context.” You need to be more than careful, you should stop talking or what might be called gossiping about others; however, natural and interesting it is. If and when management investigates, and they should, that is the time for you to respond honestly and explicitly to questions. This is the time for you to say that you have never seen or heard of any actions or words spoken by this accused individual that are of a sexually harassing kind. It is also the time for you to reveal your opinion that this man’s character is good; that far as you know, “this man who has been nothing but a gentleman to all of us.” It is also a time for you to say, you are committed to working together as a team and doing what you are paid to do and want no part in gossip. It is not the time for you to say anything about the two women who have made accusations against him. In short, only say what you know to be facts; actual words and actions. Until that time, I don’t think you need to “prepare a letter.” Just don’t initiate conversation about the accused or the two accusers. If asked, simply keep your answer short; saying that you were advised not to talk about it and will say no more until it is investigated and that then you will say that you have seen nothing of a sexually harassing kind. You might find helpful dozens of Q&As pertaining to sexual harassment and gossip in our Archives, such as: Falsely Accused of Harassment

http://www.west2k.com/wpdocs/qdetail.asp?id=22

Another is Unwarranted Complaint To Boss http://www.west2k.com/wpdocs/qdetail.asp?id=723 My associate Workplace Doctor Tina Lewis Rowe answered both of these questions. Her advice to these questions and many others is always wise and to the point. What should you talk about? It is natural to occasionally chat about what is going on in the world and in the lives of each other. Natural, but social talk should be unwelcome if it distracts from what you and your team are assigned to do. Now is a time for you to focus on helping your team function as effectively and efficiently as possible. You also might find Q&As pertaining to teamwork pertinent to your team. One such that I answered is How Can We Better Team Communication? ttp://www.west2k.com/wpdocs/archive/q299.htm

You are fortunate to have an “amazing” team. So you probably already know that Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Surely this accusation will need to be investigated. Focus on that and do not allow this matter to be divisive. Please feel free to tell us how all this works out after several weeks. Follow Up: Thanks for your response. I need just a couple of more answers. I was upset when my manager called me in and told me that these girls were accusing me of calling them snitches. I have had great conversations with these 2 girls, and I told my boss that I did not understand why they are trying to accuse people. I told him that I believe they are doing this because I did not take sides with them. I did tell him what I told the other co-worker in front of these girls and that they must be guilty because they think I was only saying that to accuse them of being snitches. My boss did tell me to be careful what I say if I get called in the Human Resource meeting? I believe these girls are going to pursue the sexual harassment and pursue according to them that I was calling them snitches. Can I counter file a complaint?? There are about 4 other teammates that have heard these 2 girls make accusations. I have a family, and I have never been in a situation like this before. I am concerned about my future with the company and if I will have a bad reputation because of these 2 girls. I was told we can no longer talk about this but what if these girls lie about someone or me else and say that we have continued to talk about it and we really have not??? I live in Arizona and I was told that we could get fired with no reason at all. Reply–This situation is not a legal one for you, although should an investigation prove sexual harassment or discrimination that could result in a need for attorneys for the accused, accusers, and possibly for the company if it does not investigate the accusation. A company is responsible for doing that. You are only responsible for answering questions truthfully if and when asked by H.R. or whoever is assigned to investigate. Telling only what you know to be true can help the accused. You cannot know if these two women have solid evidence against him. An investigation is for that purpose. So keep your mouth shut until and if the investigators ask you about it. If and when other co-workers want you to talk more about it, keep your response to them brief, polite, and switch subjects to matters that pertain to your job.

Worry if you want to about someone lying about you, but I think it would be smarter not to allow yourself to lose any sleep over what those two women say about you. The probability of you being fired is unlikely if you are a responsible employee.

Can you be fired? Yes, but that is not likely. In many states an employer can fire an employee for a good reason or no reason. It’s called the “at will” doctrine. That’s one of the reasons unions are formed and have fought against the “at will” doctrine.

It is understandable how these accusations have caused you to worry. And it will be natural for you to share your worry with your family; however, my advice is not to be a worry-wart. In short, don’t talk this thing to death. If you need to discuss it further, talk to a pastor or rabbi or counselor whose profession has an ethic of keeping such conversations in confidence. Does this make sense? Focus on the positive. Life is short. Rather than to stew, make a stew or bake banana bread, like I did between sending you advice and getting this follow up from you. My best to you. Here is something to think about: “Care more than others think wise, risk more than others think safe, dream more than others think practical, and expect more than others think possible.” – Anonymous

William Gorden