Wrongly Accused of Bullying At Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about bullying charge:

My husband has been suspended pending an investigation into bullying. He has been promoted recently and his co-supervisor has been doing all sorts of underhanded things. My husband has tried to talk to him but it hasn’t stopped. My husband felt he had no choice but to inform the auditing section and the line manager. We do not know the details of the allegations, but we are presuming his co-supervisor is involved. We are worried because this co-supervisor has some allies who do not like to conform to policies either, so they might create problems too. Any advice?thank you

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

To have an allegation of bullying made to the extent that your husband was suspended says to me there is much more of an accusation than just minor things. Bullying accusations couldn’t be supported easily in most companies. There would nearly always have to be multiple events and witnesses. So, it may not be the co-supervisor who is bringing this charge, since bullying nearly always involves subordinates. However, it could be the co-supervisor has encouraged it. I would suggest your husband prepare a written report that can be used as a foundation for his written response once he is told about the accusation, or just to help him get his facts together.

At some point they will almost inevitably need a statement from him or will interview him, so the pre-planning will be worth it.The facts he needs to assemble are these:

1. Since he has become a supervisor has his manager counseled with him about his behavior in any way? He should ask himself if his manager has hinted, joked or told him that his style might be abrasive, too harsh or in some way problematic. If not, and if his manager has opportunities to observe his work, he should tally up the days he has worked as a supervisor to be able to say, “In the XX days my manager has observed me doing my work he has never advised me that my style was inappropriate.

2. If he has received a performance evaluation in this time frame, what did it contain? Was it positive, were there any negative statements or concerns? If not, that is additional information to present.

3. Has he, at any time, reprimanded an employee in front of others or privately, in a way that was yelling, sarcastic, angry or hostile? If he has, he may want to carefully consider how many times that has happened and exactly what he said or did.I’m not questioning his statements to you. However, most people who are heavy handed with people or who nag them or make fun of them or berate them, don’t think they are bullying. They think they are getting work done or correcting someone or just having fun. Bullying means different things to different people.Some people think of bullying as being excessively demeaning, threatening or harassing. But many companies define bullying as anytime someone is made to feel uncomfortable unfairly, or with a negative intent.You and your husband may want to talk about his personal style in dealing with people who irritate him. You may know that already! Again, I’m not saying he has done something wrong, but I think he should be prepared to offer an explanation of anything he may have done that is being used to accuse him.

4. He should document every aspect of his situation with the co-supervisor: What he observed, who he reported it to, how soon and what did he report. If his co-supervisor was actually breaking serious rules, he likely should have reported it to a manager immediately. Delaying often puts one in a bad situation, since it looks like retaliation for something else then. However, if the problems were minor he could at least state when he observed them and what he did about them.

5. Who are your husband’s primary supporters at work? He will need witnesses to counteract claims. It is highly unlikely that he could bully someone and no one else would notice it. He shouldn’t contact these people, because that could be viewed as wrongdoing, but he could give the list to investigators. You don’t say the size of the organization or how it works in general. Apparently it’s large enough to have a hierarchy. If he has a manager who he can communicate with, perhaps he can let his manager know that he has prepared information and he welcomes the chance to talk about the situation.When he is interviewed he should present a courteous but confident approach. He should not admit wrongdoing or say he didn’t mean to do anything wrong but maybe someone else took it that way. He should just say he didn’t bully anyone and present the reasons he thinks that is the truth and that he can back it up. (Lack of counseling by a manager, no witnesses, etc.)

If, when he is preparing for all of this, he realizes he DID bully someone, inadvertently or purposely, he should own up to it (and probably there will be witnesses anyway) and apologize. One defense for him is if he has not had any supervisory training. He could say that he didn’t intend to do that but he hasn’t had training to help him deal effectively with people who create problems, take shortcuts to doing good work or otherwise do the wrong thing. It might be considered some mitigation if he can show he only has acted harsh with those who have not been doing the right things.If he clearly has not done anything wrong, the investigation will probably show that, no matter how many people decide to lie about it. And really, most people aren’t willing to blatantly lie, even to get someone they don’t like in trouble.If your husband thinks there would be any value in having some legal advice he should check on that. There wouldn’t be a law violation charged, but your husband may want to make sure he does not accidentally do something that creates a legal problem for his employment.Most attorneys will give a free consultation to determine if an attorney is actually needed. I don’t see that to be the case in this situation, but I would be remiss to not mention it.

I hope this calms down soon. At least I hope he is told what the actual complaint is. In the meantime he can put his focus on getting his facts together. When this is over and he goes back to work, I hope he will partner more with his manager so he isn’t left to be an easy target for complaints.Best wishes to you. If you have the opportunity 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.