Wrongfully accused of work gossip

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an email:VP saying that I am spreading rumors around work that he is planning a layoff. He said that he received an email with my name on it and it is grounds for termination.

I was recently contacted by a VP saying that I am spreading rumors around work that he is planning a layoff. He said that he received an email with my name on it and it is grounds for termination. I know wholeheartedly I never said such things to anyone at the company. I was so in shock when I received the accusing phone call that I didn’t get a chance to defend myself. Now I feel that my integrity and professional character has been compromised. I would like to clear my name and suggest that he conducts an investigation to find the true source of such rumors. How should I handle this situation?

Signed, Seeking The Truth

Dear Seeking The Truth:

You should ask to have the accusations investigated to clear your name, Even if there is no formal record of it, it needs to be cleared up. When termination or a serious discipline is a potential result of a complaint about you, it is vital that your name be cleared in case something else happens in the future.You will want to avoid having it sound as though you are complaining about the VP’s actions.

Instead you should ask only for an investigation of the information told to you by the VP. I think someone higher will wince when they hear how the VP handled it anyway. So, that can be brought out without you mentioning it specifically. Here is why I say that about the way the VP handled it: Rumors like this are rampant in many businesses. The best way to respond to them is for the VP or others to communicate often about what IS the truth. Then, talk to the individual who reportedly said it, in private; not by phone; and tell them not to do it again, or else more severe sanctions will result.

The incorrect way is to get upset over an unsubstantiated accusation and make a phone call about it, as your VP did. The difference might be if you are in a position of trust, where others feel you should or would know inside information. Or, if you purportedly said it to many people and implied you had a reason to know.The source of the email to the VP could also make a difference. For example, if your supervisor wrote it, if someone the VP trusted completely wrote it, or if a portion of an email of yours was included in it or you were quoted as though you specifically said something. Still, it should have been handled differently by the VP.However, your main concern is about your reputation and your record. So, make sure you are clear on what is the truth.

You say you didn’t talk about such things to other employees. Even if you did, keep in mind there is a difference between idly speculating about it or worrying about it for a few minutes in a few conversations with your peers, compared to “spreading rumors.” That implies much more lengthy and specific talk about it. I mention that difference to avoid having you say you never said anything, but someone else might say that you and others made one or two statements.

Stick to the exact truth.Each organization has a normal pathway for asking for an investigation like this. If it is a small business and you know the highest person well, you might write directly to them. If not, you might write to the VP who called you. Or, you might write to your immediate supervisor. I would suggest you write to the Human Resources or Personnel function, if your company has a formal section for that. It would be appropriate for you to go to them in most companies.

Otherwise, write to the level above the VP, since the VP would tend to not want to prove himself wrong.¬† However, you mentioned asking the VP, so it could be that would be the norm in your company.Don’t stop at just talking to someone about it. You can also talk face to face, but by putting it in writing you show your insistence upon an investigation.State when you received the call and what the VP said. Avoid interpreting what he meant by what he said and stick to the facts of the conversation. If you are writing to the VP who called you, you can say, “If you recall, here was our conversation” When you have described the conversation, you can say how you felt when you realized you had been falsely accused about something that could cost you your job. I think it is important for the reader; and there will be several I would imagine; to know how that phone call made you feel. It isn’t advisable to sound excessively emotional or to go on and on about it, but you should certainly say how frightened you were, how upset and how hurt you were that a negative thing would be believed without proof.

Next ask directly for what you want. You might write something like:”I am asking that the accusation made about me be investigated thoroughly. I think it is crucial for me and for the overall good of the company and our group to find out the truth about who said I spread rumors, what rumors I was reported to have spread and who I reportedly talked to. Only by finding those things out will my managers know for sure that I didn’t do the things I was accused of doing. If the truth isn’t uncovered, I will always worry that my job could be in jeopardy based on a false accusation. I am asking that anyone potentially involved be interviewed. I will be anxious to be interviewed about it myself.” Then, wait to see what happens. You may get a reply saying that since the VP talked to you informally, no formal complaint was made and there is no reason to take it further. You may be told that the matter has already been looked into and there had been a mistake, so you don’t have to worry. Or, you may be told the matter will not be investigated because it isn’t significant enough to cause that degree of follow-up. But, perhaps there will be an investigation!

Even if there is no investigation, your adamant letter will go a long way to impress the VP and others that you were wrongly accused. If you don’t talk about it to other employees, the matter will fade away over time and new things will take its place. (But sure not to talk about it, or to stop talking about it now, to avoid being accused of stirring up anger over it.)You may never know who reported about you to the VP. It will remind you of how bad it is to lie or exaggerate to get someone else in trouble. It’s even bad to tell the truth to get someone in trouble, unless the matter is truly important. It happens in every work place, but each of us can commit to not do that kind of thing Focus on your work right now and work through this rather than letting it bog you down. Ask yourself this: How do you want to be seen by others when this is done? Work toward that goal.Best wishes as you move forward. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what results.

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.