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Accused of Wrongdoing at Work: What to Do

FlourishAnyway is an industrial/organizational psychologist with applied experience in corporate Human Resources and consulting.

What to Do If You're Accused

What to Do If You're Accused

What to Do When an HR Investigator Calls

Facing accusations of misconduct at work is no joke. There's an old saying to pair with accusations: There are two sides to every story, and then there's the truth. If you've just received a heart-pounding call from HR, how can you present your perspective in the most positive light? After all, your promotability within the company, your professional reputation, and your job are on the line. In this article, I address the best way to reclaim your image given the circumstances.

Why You Should Trust My Advice

Having been a corporate Human Resources (HR) Investigator for two Fortune 500 companies, I am accustomed to unintentionally ruining an employee's day with a simple phone call. Hearing from me often meant an employee was first learning there was an allegation of misconduct against them. Usually, the allegation was serious: harassment, discrimination, theft/fraud, or conflict of interest. You get the idea.

Typically, the employee's heart sank. I could tell. Some even joked with me that they felt panic or dread when they saw my number appear on their caller ID, wondering what they had done. Some already knew.

Although I wasn't seeking to ruin anyone's day, asking questions and reaching a finding was part of my job. I was a fact-finder.

Where Do You Start? Start Here.

Wipe the sweat off your brow. A lot is riding on the success of your conversation with HR. You must be ready to present your best self, and I am here to help. In this article I cover:

  1. How Should I Respond to a Complaint?
  2. How Do I Assert My Boundaries When I'm Under Investigation?
  3. How Do I Address Claims I Believe Are Unsubstantiated?
  4. How Do I Humanize Myself as the Person Complained About?
  5. How Do I Gather Information About the Complaint?
  6. What Rights Do I Have?
  7. What Do I Do If I'm Guilty?
Being called by an HR Investigator can make you feel like your behavior is under the microscope.

Being called by an HR Investigator can make you feel like your behavior is under the microscope.

1. How Should I Respond to a Complaint?

When you are contacted by an HR Investigator, you may feel a variety of intense emotions:

  • Your head may throb with angry and resentful thoughts of a coworker who has finally escalated an ongoing conflict.
  • You may feel shocked and confused because you have no clue who would want to hurt you this way.
  • You may feel frustrated that HR is wasting your time asking questions about what you feel is a fabricated complaint.

It is normal to have these feelings, and they are valid. It's important to take a deep breath and realize that the resentment, shock, and frustration you are feeling will not help you navigate the process. If you overreact, you could be demonstrating firsthand to the investigator that what the complainant says is indeed true (e.g., that you're hot-headed, loud, rude and threatening, and/or emotionally unstable).

You must stay calm, listen, and not overreact.

I Feel Upset. How do I React?

Instead of overreacting, take a deep breath. Use a calm, steady voice to describe your emotional reaction.

For example, you can express that you are:

  • surprised because you're an excellent employee with 10 years of unblemished service with the company
  • disappointed that the complainant did not first attempt to approach you with the problem, or
  • that this is the first you're hearing of a problem (if that is indeed true).
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If you believe the investigator will find no merit to the complaint, confidently say so. Commit to full cooperation so that the complaint can be resolved quickly and you can get back to your job.

What Is the Investigator's Role?

As a fact-finder, it is the investigator's role to be neutral, to listen to all relevant parties, review evidence, and then make a determination. It's important to not become emotional around the person who will decide the outcome of your case.

Monitor Your Red Flag Behavior

Whether they are meeting with you in person or talking with you over the phone, investigators are alert for red-flag behavior.

Here is a quick overview of facial and body expressions as well as other behaviors that could indicate a problem, particularly when you exhibit them as a part of a pattern:

  • Defensive postures: arms folded tightly in front of your chest, hands in pockets, hiding hands
  • Signs of deception: rapid blinking, lack of eye contact, touching your face a lot, heavy sweating, fidgeting, nervous swallowing
  • Dominating behaviors: loud tone of voice, interrupting, swearing, frequent repetition, glaring, invasion of personal space, pounding fists, pointing, attempting to take notes on the investigator during the investigation
  • Passive behaviors: becoming quiet and withdrawn, slumping posture
  • Deflecting responsibility: "dropped" calls at critical points in the conversation (if this interview is via phone); counter complaints; you blame everyone else

Exhibiting these behaviors won't further your cause.

Make the Investigator's Job Easy

Although this is the only complaint you are involved in, the investigator probably has a docket of many other cases. Thus, you can help yourself by making their job as easy as possible.

Communicate Clearly: Offer precise times and dates when possible. Answer the investigator's questions directly. Be succinct. If you don't know the answer or don't remember, say so. Guessing could backfire on you.

Establish Your Credibility: The investigator is determining your credibility as you speak with them. Ask yourself:

  • Do you make misstatements and then correct yourself upon further questioning?
  • Do you verbally attack the complainant, witnesses, or others who are discussed during the investigation?
  • Do you acknowledge your own shortcomings or your role in conflict (especially if it's obvious)?
  • Are you attempting to bully the investigator? (Not a good move, especially if you're being investigated for alleged bullying behavior!)

As an investigator, there have been PCAs (Person Complained About, see below) that have impressed me with their candor and maturity. Rather than denying knowledge of the alleged behavior, they immediately owned up to it, said they regretted their actions, and told me why. This short-circuited the investigation.

Rescheduling a call with an HR Investigator is more common than you know.

Rescheduling a call with an HR Investigator is more common than you know.

2. How Do I Assert Conversation Boundaries When I'm Under Investigation?

Say that HR contacts you when it's not a good time to talk—for instance, when you're driving, heading off to a meeting, or when you cannot talk without being overheard by another employee.

Don't agree to answer "just a few questions" about a confidential employee matter when you are unable to give your full, undivided attention to the investigator. The stakes are too high.

It's also not a good idea to discuss the matter when you have an audience, even if it's your cubicle neighbors. You don't know what the issue is about yet. Your cubicle neighbors could be involved somehow.

How to Reschedule a Time to Talk

  • If you are in an environment where others can overhear you, offer to call the investigator back from a private location such as an unoccupied conference room or empty office.
  • If you don't have time to talk, politely tell the investigator that you are heading off to a meeting (or whatever the case), and offer to reschedule. If the investigator nevertheless presses you to continue the conversation, push back with the statement that "the investigation is important to us both, and you deserve my full attention."

Above all, be professional and courteous.

Unsubstantiated Claims: What to Do If You Believe You're Not Guilty

Unsubstantiated Claims: What to Do If You Believe You're Not Guilty

3. How Do I Address Claims I Believe Are Unsubstantiated?

Not all complaints have merit. I typically substantiated about one-third of the complaints I investigated. This was in line with company norms and industry averages.

Some of the more vivid examples of unsubstantiated complaints from my time in HR included:

  • Anonymous allegations of drug abuse, foul and abusive language, and egregious sexual misconduct against the least likely of subjects (e.g., a very straight-laced employee).
  • Claims by an employee's ex-husband that a manager used sexual harassment to "lure" the man's ex-wife and many other women away from their spouses. The jealous ex-husband had a record of following her and making unfounded allegations.
  • A coworker's repeated complaints that her entire workgroup was spying on her, pranking her workstation, hiding key documents, and trying to make her think she was "crazy." The woman eventually disclosed that she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was off her medication.

A professional investigator will approach each investigation with an open mind. He or she will review the facts and reach a decision based on the evidence. Cases are often not what they seem to be at first blush.

Address Motive

Understand the difference between making a false allegation—that is, deliberately lying about your actions—and simply misunderstanding your behaviors or intentions. Sample reasons for false allegations include revenge, bullying, and romantic relationships gone wrong.

If the allegation is a misunderstanding, can you help the investigator reasonably explain away your actions?

If instead, you assert that the Complainant has filed a false allegation, answer the investigator's burning question: "Why?" The investigator is interested in what motive would compel someone to fabricate a complaint against you. Messing with someone's livelihood is a pretty mean thing to do.

Provide the Names of Corroborating Witnesses

When relevant, suggest the names of witnesses who can corroborate your story. Specifically, state what the value of the witness is to the investigation. For example:

"Mary Smith and John Green can both tell you that during our team meeting on July 15 between 2-3:00 p.m., the Complainant specifically told the group that she was not offended by my comment."

Offer Supporting Evidence

Provide the investigator with any important evidence that supports your point of view. Examples include emails, performance and training documents, voice mails, etc. When possible, transfer such documents to them over email. (You may need to provide proof at some point that you supplied this.)

Sometimes you may also have evidence that points in the opposite direction of your guilt (called "contrary indicators"). For a discrimination claim, for example, you may not have promoted the Complainant, but if for example, you recommended her for an award and appointed her to a key committee, then that tends to refute your discriminatory intent. Offer the information.

4. How to Humanize Yourself as the Person Complained About (PCA)

A person with an allegation filed against them is called a Person Complained About (PCA). When an HR Investigator meets with the PCA, they have typically already met with the Complainant.

The investigator has heard the ugly details about your alleged misbehavior. In addition, the Complainant probably has also shared any history of the relationship between you two. At this point, the investigator usually has a lop-sided picture characterization of the PCA as an awful employee, mean coworker, and spiteful human being.

But thankfully, they are calling you to talk with you personally and hear your side of the story.

Course Correct Your Reputation

You must disabuse the investigator of the Complainant's negative characterizations of you as an evildoer. Understand that going into your interview the investigator has heard a one-sided story. You need to tip the scales in your favor.

Use all the charm you have in your personal toolbox. You're not just another "case" or PCA. Instead, ensure that the investigator perceives you as an employee who made an honest mistake—or as someone who has been terribly misunderstood, falsely accused, etc.

Establish a Personal Connection With the Investigator

Establish a warm rapport early on so that the investigator sees you as a human being. Look for similarities between you both. Engage in brief small talk, as appropriate, without delaying the investigation (e.g., "I remember you. Didn't you previously work in the HR Benefits department?").

To counter your negative portrayal by the Complainant, you can also interject relevant information about your work history and relationships with others throughout the conversation.

For example, if this is the first complaint against you, calmly say so. If there is someone who repeatedly files unsubstantiated complaints against you, volunteer that information and ask for the investigator's help.

Establish a connection with the HR Investigator so that the investigator knows you as a person, not just as a PCA.

5. How Do I Gather Information About the Complaint?

Despite having spoken to the investigator, you may feel like you are in the dark about the complaint against you. The investigator may withhold some important details about the complaint (e.g., who complained, the exact nature of the complaint, and what witnesses have been talked to).

For this reason, it's important to try to gather information from the HR Investigator in a non-confrontational manner. Ask:

  • "What can you tell me about why we are here?" or
  • "What can you tell me about the complaint against me? I've never been through this before."

Listen carefully to their response and ask for details, clarifying when you can (e.g., "So am I being accused of sexual harassment?") Be sensitive to when the investigator is ready to move on, however. All complaints have to be investigated, and you might just be blowing the situation out of proportion.

Information You Must Learn From Your Conversation With the Investigator

Before your conversation ends, be sure you understand the following:

  • The investigator's name, phone number, and email address
  • What the investigation process involves
  • The expected time frame for resolving the complaint
  • How you will know when the matter is resolved and who will notify you
  • Whether it is simply "business as usual" while the investigation is ongoing
  • Whether you are permitted to speak with anyone else about the investigation (e.g., spouse, boss, co-workers, clergy, therapist, etc.).

6. What Rights Do I Have? (What At-Will Employment Means for You)

At-will employment means the employer can hire, fire, suspend or discipline an employee at any time, for any reason, or for no reason without incurring a legal penalty. In addition, the employer can change the terms and conditions of the working relationship based on its business needs (e.g., reduce pay and/or benefits).

The converse of this working relationship is also true: the employee (you) may sever his employment ties should he see fit.

There are several exceptions to the at-will doctrine, such as retaliation or illegal discrimination. An employer cannot legally terminate an employee on account of the employee's sex, national origin, race, religion, color, age, disability, veteran status, or another legally protected status. Exceptions tend to vary by state, so check with the Department of Labor in your state for details.

All states except Montana presume employees to be at-will employees unless their employment is modified by contract (Guerin 2013). Union employees and high-level executives, for example, work under an employment contract.

A Summary of At-Will Employment

At-will employers have a lot of leeway. Therefore:

  • As long as there is no discrimination or other violation of the law, they are not required to maintain fair procedures (although it would be smart to do so).
  • Unlike in criminal court processes, an at-will employee does not have the right to remain silent or to confront his/her accuser.
  • The accused does not have a right to be represented by an attorney.
  • The accused does not have to consent to discipline. Discipline can range from a letter to one's personnel file to discharge of employment.

6. How to Handle the Truth If You're Guilty

Some of the most unfortunate situations have involved employees who lied during the course of the investigation, often out of embarrassment or fear of repercussions. For example, more than once I have encountered a star employee who turned a minor violation into a terminable offense by lying about it.

These folks didn't have to get themselves fired. People make mistakes in both their personal and professional careers and they could have simply owned up to it. Whether through security videos, time card records, multiple witnesses to the contrary, or recantations of your previous statements, evidence will often make it obvious that you lied.

Being lied to is an assault on one's integrity, and the investigator does not appreciate it. If you have engaged in misbehavior and are tempted to lie to cover it up, take your lumps. Own up to what you've done and move on, whatever that involves. You could be out of a job regardless, but at least your integrity will be intact.

My experience as an investigator is that eventually, the truth has a way of catching up with people.

Summary: If You're a PCA, Own Your Truth

Allegations of misconduct in the workplace can happen to anyone. Now that it has happened to you, commit yourself to seeing that the complaint is resolved quickly and fairly. Put your best foot forward during the investigation using the following tips:

  • Stay calm rather than venting emotionally. The HR Investigator is not your therapist.
  • Watch red flag behaviors that could trip you up.
  • If the investigator contacts you at an inconvenient time, ask upfront to reschedule.
  • Connect with the investigator so that they see you as a person, not just a PCA (person complained about).
  • Gather key bits of information about the complaint, the process, and the follow-up.
  • Help resolve the complaint by communicating clearly, establishing your credibility, addressing the motive, and offering both evidence and the name of any witnesses.
  • If you are guilty, be an adult and just take your lumps.

Good luck!

Sources

Guerin, Lisa. "Employment At Will: What Does It Mean?" Nolo.com. Accessed September 20, 2013.

Lucas, Suzanne. "I was falsely accused at work—now what?" CBS News. Last modified January 16, 2013.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Where do I find a lawyer who will defend me against false accusations of a hostile work environment? In my situation, it is all my word against theirs, and the investigator took stock in their word and not mine. I believe they collaborated and got their stories together before their interviews. I did not have that opportunity. I am in a situation where the management wants me gone anyway, so I feel like this was a sanctioned hit.

Answer: First, be aware that most companies do not permit attorneys or anyone else to represent an employee during an internal investigation. The exception will be being represented by your union steward if you work under a collective bargaining agreement (labor contract). You can always ask, but expect to be turned down.

Even so, an attorney consultation may help you to assess the strength of your case and provide specific legal advice. The lawyer can be especially helpful if the company fires you or otherwise severs your employment.

Alternatively, if you later file for unemployment or file an external complaint with a government agency such as the EEOC, the lawyer can be helpful in arguing on your behalf. (They are NOT required; you can always represent yourself. However, they know the process better and can be your paid advocate.)

If looking for an attorney, you're looking for one who specializes in employment/labor law. The best source is a reliable person you know and trust who is an attorney or paralegal himself/herself. Ask for a word-of-mouth recommendation. If you can't get that, try www.lawyers.com or www.findlaw.com and look for an employment attorney who is licensed to practice in your state. These types of sites provide names and details on attorneys in your area. You want someone who represents plaintiffs/employees.

Question: Does an employee have the right to obtain a copy of the HR's investigation report?

Answer: In most cases, no, unless it has been included as a part of your personnel file for some reason. Don't let that stop you from asking, however.

Question: I recently contacted HR regarding concerns of harassment. They investigated and found my concerns to be unsubstantiated. Less than a month later I was terminated because I made my boss feel “uncomfortable”. However, she told another employee I was let go because I was unfit for the children. Is this defamation of character? Would my complaint and subsequent termination be considered retaliation?

Answer: Your job discharge following your HR complaint may indeed be retaliation. It certainly is "convenient" timing. You don't include a lot of details about the case, but know that retaliation can involve an unsubstantiated complaint, as in your case. Also, be aware that small employers do not have to abide by certain employment laws, so the size of your employer matters.

You have a couple of options:

1) You can complain to the company that you were wrongfully discharged and disparaged by an agent of the Company. This gives them the chance to undo a wrong before taking it outside the company. Notify HR or a company executive of your wrongful discharge complaint, preferably in writing via certified mail. Be professional and direct in your letter and know what you're requesting as a resolution (e.g., job reinstatement? an apology? something else?).

2) If the harassment you alleged was based on a protected factor (e.g., sex, race, national origin, religion, color, age, disability, veteran status, etc.), then file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or state human rights commission. Don't delay because there are time limitations.

3) Consider filing for unemployment compensation immediately, as this will force your employer to state why you were terminated and give you a chance to refute the Company's account in an unemployment hearing.

Don't let them get by with disparaging you unfairly. If your former boss (an agent of the Company), disparages you to current employees, I'd be concerned that she would disparage you to potential employers as well which is illegal. Consider consulting an attorney for a cease and desist letter regarding the disparagement and specific advice.

Question: I work in a healthcare facility. My coworker has accused me of abusing a resident, but she did not document it. It is therefore just her word versus mine. How will the truth be determined?

Answer: It is not uncommon to see situations like this involving one employee making an allegation against another in which the only evidence provided is one's word that misconduct happened. In that situation, an investigator must review the case, determine the credibility of both parties, and determine who is telling the truth. Note that a workplace is NOT a court of law and therefore does not abide by a standard of "proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Here are several factors that an investigator assesses in determining credibility:

1) Inherent plausibility: Is the account believable on its face? Does it make sense?

2) Demeanor: Does the person seem to be telling the truth or lying?

3) Motivation to lie: Does the person have a reason to lie?

4) Corroboration: Are there witness accounts such as those by eye-witnesses, people who saw the person soon after the alleged incidents, or people who discussed the incidents with him or her at around the time that they occurred? This includes social media posts. Is there physical evidence such as bruises on the resident that corroborates the person’s testimony?

5) Past record: Did the person complained about (PCA) have a history of similar behavior in the past?

If the resident is in a position to speak for him or herself, that could be particularly important, as well as any physical evidence on his/her body.

Question: My co-worker filed a false harassment claim against me which was not substantiated by an investigation. Should I now file a claim against my co-worker for falsely claiming harassment?

Answer: The investigation failed to substantiate your co-worker's complaint, so the matter is considered closed. Unless you're convinced that your coworker brought the complaint in bad faith (and if that were the case, I assume you would have raised it during the investigation, right?) then move on. You need to focus on moving forward, and that includes not retaliating against the person who brought the complaint.

Question: My husband is accused of saying something that offended someone. After the investigation, can I sue my husband's coworker for defamation of character and unnecessary stress placed on our family due to the person's actions?

Answer: You might as well shoot yourself in the foot and shoot him in both feet. Not only would you lose your case and waste your money but you'd also do damage to your husband's career and his reputation as an adult able to think and act for himself. This is his trouble. He got himself into it and he'll get himself out of it and live with any career repercussions. Don't go piling on. Support him by LISTENING instead.

Few people raise a concern out of outright ill will and malice. Often it's a misunderstanding of what was said vs. what was meant. Based on my experience, about a third of the time, the accused actually did what they're accused of. You obviously believe your husband, but you weren't there and you don't actually know what happened. You're biased.

Also, this is simply something he allegedly said to offend. It could have been so much worse. Words can typically be repaired, and the two parties can move on. When you increase the stakes dramatically by threatening to sue someone, things can turn mighty ugly. He's also probably been warned against retaliation. A lawsuit is certainly retaliation and could cost him his job.

Question: I have been falsely accused of racism, and I have found out the complainants have been telling people in their department that they went to HR and filed a complaint that I called them Latino. I found out about the complaint from a friend in the department the complainants work in. I never called them anything and have no idea what race they are. What are my rights if I am found not guilty?

Answer: If you've never called your coworkers any names or treated them differently based on race/ethnicity as they allege, then you should be fine. Besides, what's wrong with the word "Latino?" It's not a pejorative term at all, so I'm thinking there's a lot more to the story or they're being oversensitive.

Secondly, workplace investigators don't find employees "guilty" or "not guilty" because it's not a court of law. Rather, they assess whether an allegation has merit -- that is, whether an allegation is substantiated or unsubstantiated.

If you feel like you've been ganged up on or bullied by multiple people then it's important to bring that up to the investigator during the investigation. Provide any other examples of ways your coworkers have ganged up on you (e.g., excluded you from the group, refused to work with you or sabotaged your work, started rumors about you). You can file a counter complaint, if appropriate.

Regardless, you'll all need to continue to work productively afterwards so keep that in mind. No of you is permitted to retaliate against anyone else for filing a claim or participating in an investigation. From what you present, it seems to be more of an issue of not getting along rather than racism.

Question: I've been filing "complaints" to my supervisor -- not official, but they are emails. I've complained about my co-workers and their treatment of me in these messages. Today, HR emailed me and told me they are investigating ME because the girls have filed a complaint against me regarding my "work conduct." I barely talk to them as it is. How can I approach this meeting? Should I bring my emails to my supervisor?

Answer: First, let me clarify that by emailing your supervisor about the alleged inappropriate work conduct of your co-workers you were, in fact, complaining about them to the Company. Whether your supervisor handled your complaints appropriately is another matter altogether. (Depending on the details of your allegations, s/he may have been obligated to forward your complaint to HR.)

Check to see if your company has a policy on investigations or handling employee complaints. It's also a good idea to read the company policy or policies that you believe your coworkers violated (assuming your company does have policies). Print these out for yourself. Also, print out for HR your emailed complaints, your supervisor's responses, and any evidence that supports your case. Also, explain to HR that YOU were actually FIRST to complain -- you just complained to your supervisor rather than HR.

Expect your supervisor to be interviewed as a part of the HR investigation. Therefore, unless HR has told you not to, provide your supervisor with the emails s/he needs to be informed going into the HR meeting.

And finally, a few pieces of general advice:

1) HR will question why you believe your coworkers are treating you this way, so be ready to answer that (e.g., are you a new employee, did you make someone mad, is someone jealous and the rest are going along, is it your race or some legally protected factor?)

2) if you have a positive work history and reputation for getting along well with others, make sure HR knows this

3) know the resolution you're looking for in this conflict.

Question: When cleared of an investigation at work, do I have the right to ask for a report? What if I was never interviewed? Does my employer have to put info into writing regarding the suspension?

Answer: If an investigation results in you being suspended from work, a smart employer would typically issue a form for the employee personnel file that documents this fact. The paper or electronic form would be signed by the employee, supervisor, department manager, and HR representative to verify mutual understanding of the discipline. The Company may need to refer to it in progressive discipline or in an unemployment hearing should the employee's behavior not improve.

There may or may not be an overall case report. It depends on the employer's practices. You can ask whether your company follows this practice and request a copy, but you'll probably be told that Company documents are HR confidential and you don't have access to them. (Some states may let you see these, however.) Even if you do not have a report, when a case is closed, and it has been unsubstantiated you may want to request a brief email from the investigator saying that. Just ask whether s/he can send you a short email stating that the case has been closed and the matter is unsubstantiated. At least that documentation will make you rest easier. Managers change, HR reps change, and at least you'll have this to prove the result in case it's ever an issue.

Regarding your never being interviewed, typically a person complained about IS interviewed so s/he can present their side, but in rare circumstances, the allegations do not warrant an interview. For example, video or records clearly shows that the claim is unfounded.

Question: I was wrongfully accused of a workplace complaint, but HR never bothered to meet with me or send an investigator to speak to me. What should I do?

Answer: If HR or management initially contacted you to inform you that a workplace complaint was lodged against you, it's reasonable to get back with them to ask about the status of the investigation.

However, if you heard about the complaint through the rumor mill, you may not have correct information about there even being an investigation. If you heard about it via coworkers, for example, you may not accurately know IF there's an investigation, what precisely is alleged, or who is complained against. You can, therefore, choose to ask your boss if that is the case.

Question: Is it a good idea to ask what the intentions of a company are?

Answer: If you ask what the company's intentions are, you'd probably get a very non-committal response from HR, such as that the company intends to investigate the matter thoroughly and reach a quick and fair resolution based on the facts.

If instead what you really what to know is what are they going to do (discipline you? fire you?), then a better way to phrase it is to inquire whether your job is at risk. Don't be surprised if HR responds that if it finds violations of company policy or the law, then employees are subject to discipline up to and including the discharge of employment. That's standard language. If you've been waiting for what seems like too long for an answer in regards to your situation, mention that the investigation has been going on for x amount of time and you'd like to get back to work. It's okay to ask for in advance for an expected timeframe of how long the matter should take to resolve. Then, periodically check in on the status.

Question: There was a complaint against me, and I received a counseling form. However, there was no investigation. The complaint was false, so what are my options? This complaint was made to try to get me fired.

Answer: Keep in mind that discipline doesn’t necessarily have to require an investigation. Attendance violations, for example, may receive specific disciplinary consequences. Or if your supervisor witnessed an act that violates work rules, s/he would simply issue the appropriate corrective action. However, I trust that the complaint was NOT one of these situations. You’re saying a false complaint was made.

In that case, you have a couple of options. You can refuse to sign the counseling form. Instead of a signature, simply write something to the effect of “Refuse to sign -- no investigation on this false complaint.” Although HR and management will still use it against you for disciplinary purposes, you are going on record that you object to both the discipline and the process. (Get a copy in case you are fired in the future.)

Another option is to file a formal complaint against your boss and/or the individual who is disciplining you. If there is an HR rep involved, complain against them, too. You’re complaining about a fellow employee's intentional lying, your boss' unfair discipline of you, and failure to conduct an investigation.

Find the company policy that establishes that the company conducts fair, thorough, and neutral investigations. Also find the company’s written discipline policy, plus the one that deals specifically with the alleged reason for your discipline. Use specific policies to file your complaint. In other words, allege that specific people violated specific company policies.

Finally, a less formal option is to informally appeal the counseling through your management chain preferably with a face-to-face meeting in which you present your situation succinctly and describe what you want to be done. Be professional and courteous and provide a copy of both the disciplinary document and the policies that are relevant to your issue. The key here is to get to the right person in the management chain -- you want someone who cares and has the power to change the result. A Director or VP would be ideal.

Question: A coworker filed a complaint against me alleging verbal abuse, stating she no longer felt safe with me. I took these allegations seriously and have chosen to steer clear. She constantly goes out of her way to try to have casual conversations with me, knowing that I will not talk to her, and it makes me very uncomfortable. She does it in the staff room to make me look as if I am ignoring her when in reality I am afraid of being set up again. What can I do?

Answer: It surely doesn’t sound like she feels unsafe at work if she is pursuing these types of conversation with you. If the allegations were unsubstantiated and you were deemed by HR to pose no safety risk, you were both probably counseled about non-retaliation. I would wonder about her motive for initiating these non-work-related conversations. Is it to potentially make amends or set you up for a retaliation complaint?

Technically, by saying you are trying to steer clear of her you ARE choosing to ignore her, but you shouldn’t have to engage in unwanted fluff conversations during break time with her or anyone else. You have a couple of choices. 1) Make a polite excuse, cut the conversation short, and leave the scene. You might even try a "kill her with kindness" approach. 2) Offer to buy her lunch and discuss the entire matter, being prepared to hear her out and reach a truce. Or involve HR in the discussion. Concentrate on moving forward amicably and professionally. Perhaps there are behaviors you both could change? You may be surprised about the results. You could end up being one another's biggest allies. I've seen it before. 3) Report her staff room conversations with you to HR in case she adds new allegations like retaliation to the prior complaint. Consider talking to your manager about the issue before taking action.

Question: If two co-workers are best friends and make allegations against you that are totally untrue, can you get terminated?

Answer: The fact that two co-workers are best friends means less than their credibility as witnesses or complainants. HR investigators interviews people separately and typically can tell when stories are rehearsed or fabricated. They're also often aware of a "wolfpack" mentality where a small group of two or more collaborate to try to bring someone down.

The investigator must evaluate the credibility of all parties involved as well as the plausibility of the allegation itself. If your co-workers have any motive to lodge false allegations against you, then make sure you offer this information to the investigator. Also, describe their close relationship and offer counter evidence or witnesses as appropriate.

Let's hope that based on their credibility and yours, rational heads prevail and the allegations are found to be meritless.

Question: What if you have PTSD or severe anxiety disorder? Should I have doctor's papers? This could trigger a PTSD event for someone. They can't always control PTSD anxiety attacks.

Answer: If you are under the care of a medical professional, have a diagnosis of a mental or physical illness, and are seeking a job accommodation from your employer, then YES, consult HR about how to request an accommodation. You will still be expected to perform the essential functions of your job, and having a disability shouldn't "excuse" you from participating in a workplace investigation.

Question: I work at a hotel, and I might have accidentally spoken about an ongoing investigation. Can I be fired for talking about an ongoing HR investigation?

Answer: You "might" have spoken about the investigation? Hmmm. If you are involved in the investigation, then you know for sure that you said something the company believes you should not have. That does not necessarily mean you'll be fired, however.

The information you provided didn't include whether you were the target of the investigation, the complainant, a witness, or not involved whatsoever in the investigation (and thus you were just spreading hearsay). Therefore, let me give you the following conditional answer:

1) If you simply mentioned the investigation in passing rather than getting into lots of details, my assumption is you're probably okay unless it really messed up the case (e.g., tipped someone off, allowed people to align stories).

2) If you aren't directly involved in the investigation, then the company didn’t directly tell you to keep anything confidential. In that case, you are probably okay. (They may ask where you heard the information, then that person may be getting a conversation from HR, however.)

3) You might still be okay. How? The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) has started to push back against companies’ blanket demands that employees not discuss any investigation. Confidentiality requests should depend on the individual case. Also, consequences of violating the request for confidentiality are usually discipline up to and including discharge. I’ve definitely seen situations in which people received less than job termination (e.g., a verbal or written discipline). Discharge is usually reserved for employees who are central to the investigation who are explicitly told NOT to share the ongoing investigation yet they defy the request. Often, their action screws up the investigation, or they threaten a witness, attempt to collude with other witnesses, etc. That doesn’t seem to be you, but check your company’s HR policies on investigations and confidentiality.

Question: Can I record the conversation with an investigator?

Answer: Technically yes you "can," as it's easy to do on any smartphone or iPad, for example. What you're really asking, however, is SHOULD you?

I would emphatically advocate that you 1) become aware of any company policy explicitly forbidding such behavior and 2) know your state law. If you're talking via telephone to an investigator who is out-of-state (i.e., at a corporate office or another facility), then you need to know where they are physically located as well. You'd be dealing with multiple states' laws in that situation.

Why is location important? Some states require that all parties have to consent to recording a conversation, whereas others require that only one party needs to consent (even if that person is you, the one doing the recording).

There are currently 12 states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington) that are two-party consent states. Often, company policies forbid all surreptitious recording on company property or in the course of company business; this may be much more restrictive than state law, and you could end up losing your job for violating company policy, if caught. Be smart about your choice.

As an alternative to surreptitious recording, you might try thoroughly documenting your conversation right after it ends. (Doing so during the meeting is perceived as hostile. It's also hard to answer the interviewer's questions and also document the conversation.) Focus on your performance during the investigation interview instead. Get as much as the conversation verbatim while it's fresh in your memory. Or ask the investigator for a copy of their notes, if s/he'll supply them. Most won't, but hey, it's worth a shot!

Question: I made the mistake of going from memory and just talking to my boss, I started crying from sheer sickness with worry, and then had to write an apology to him over the weekend and ended up putting down in writing all the information I knew and had about the issue at hand. Your article is right on the money. Do you feel that I damaged my credibility by racing first and then writing the correct response later on when I cooled down?

Answer: At this point, you cannot change it so please don't second guess yourself, especially if you did not contradict yourself between the two statements. People become overwhelmed sometimes with emotion and that's why it's good to go in armed with facts and backup documents, if possible. You just got upset from the stress and couldn't think clearly. You needed to gather your thoughts.

Question: I was not in my right state of mind and asked a coworker to hookup. I was really intoxicated and have no recollection of me saying that besides the messages. She said no and then I immediately apologized for my actions. I also apologized in the morning and removed her from everything. What is the likelihood of me being terminated for this? This is my first offense ever.

Answer: You already have a sense regarding what you did wrong, so before I get to that let's cover what you did right in this situation. You took no for an answer, you apologized immediately, you apologized again the next morning when you were more self-aware, and you're not continuing to eye her on social media.

Yes, this was a very stupid thing to do, and it's a good example as to why you should control your alcohol intake around people you work with. You don't indicate whether this was an after-hours business event or a social event involving people you just so happen to work with. You also don't indicate whether there were witnesses who may be involved. They can report the incident just as easily as she can. Anyone she told about the proposition can report it to management, too. Oh, and she has texts to prove it. Sigh.

Keep in mind that the stakes are higher if it's a Company-sponsored event like a training session or sales meeting because you'd be considered "on the job" at any Company event -- even if it's afterhours in the bar. Company policies, including your Company's sexual harassment policy and any professional conduct policy, apply while at Company-sponsored events. Limit your alcohol and ensure that your behavior is professional moving forward.

At this point, however, you've done everything you can. Stop ruminating. Don't treat her differently by avoiding her for something you did. Don't keep bringing it up. Don't ask her out ever again. Believe it or not, as an investigator, I've encountered people who have reported themselves to HR in this type of situation because they didn't want to live with the fear. While they certainly control the narrative by self-reporting to HR, it's not something I'd personally do. You make that judgment for yourself. If HR calls you on it, tell them you had too much to drink, have little recollection but apologized, then tell them you learned a big lesson from the experience.

Don't beat yourself up over this mistake. We've all done things we regret, both on and off the job. I think you've learned something valuable firsthand.

Question: Can you have a co-worker as a witness in a private meeting?

Answer: This is a common question asked by employees of HR.

If you're a member of a bargaining unit, then your union steward can accompany you as representation. Otherwise, most companies absolutely do NOT permit employees to bring witnesses into private meetings such as performance discussions, investigation meetings, etc. Note, however, that the company at its discretion may pull in additional members of HR or management as witnesses to the discussion.

I'd imagine if you're dealing with an inexperienced supervisor or HR representative, you could potentially get lucky enough to have someone who allows you to bring a buddy. That would be a long shot though.

Question: I’ve been suspended pending an investigation. I could get fired for punching a coworker's timecard in and leaving my area for a longer period than allowed due to both a gambling and substance abuse problem I got caught up in. Can the union save my job?

Answer: You have several issues going on. I assume you knowingly and deliberately punched your coworker's timecard. This is typically looked at as a fraud. Be ready to provide an explanation as to why you did so. The union will need to research how others have been disciplined for similar situations. If they've typically been fired, then this alone doesn't bode well for you.

That's not all, however. You left your work area due to gambling and substance abuse. Were you gambling and abusing substances on company property? If so, you probably violated safety and several other policies. However, is there any evidence that's what you were doing while you were absent from your workstation? (Can the company prove what you were doing? For example: Are there witnesses? Did you admit it?)

If you are entering into a rehabilitation program for your addiction, then that may at least delay the investigation until you are released because you'll be on leave. I do hope you have good union representation because this doesn't look good for you. The best hope for you not losing your job is perhaps the company doesn't have sufficient evidence (witness interviews, camera footage) to prove what you were doing. Sometimes I've seen companies go soft on employees in your type of situation with "last chance" agreements. Ask your union for further information.

The most important thing is not keeping your job but getting clean. This situation may be a wake-up call for you, a part of hitting bottom. Please get help now before addiction takes your life!

Question: How should I defend myself against allegations of causing a hostile work environment? I am a supervisor, went through a divorce and recently began dating. I did speak openly about the divorce and the dating process, including the types of questions. On rare occasion I may have made an off-color comment. I am told there is more than one complaint, and I have an employee with an axe to grind.

Answer: Throw yourself on the mercy of the HR investigator. Explain that

1) you used poor judgment in discussing your personal/dating life with subordinates

2) you absolutely never intended to make anyone uncomfortable

3) no one expressed discomfort with the conversation at the time (IF this is true), although you still should have kept conversations business-like and never should have made off-color statements

4) you’ve never made sexual advances towards subordinates or asked them out

5) you sincerely apologize and want to know how you can make this right.

There have been times when instead of lying to me or defending what they did as not so bad, an employee would fully own his or her transgression up front. It usually helped their case. Although they still received discipline, their approach was helpful to them.

Question: Who can I contact at my workplace about allegations?

Answer: Usually, companies have an HR (personnel) department that investigates complaints of noncompliance with rules and policies of the organization. If you are unsure, you can ask your boss unless s/he is the problem.

Question: Is it legal to fire someone if they were accused of sexual harassment without an investigation by HR? If HR receives a sexual harassment claim or racial comments claim, do they have a legal obligation to speak to the person accused?

Answer: HR has a legal and ethical obligation to do a fair and impartial investigation of alleged employee wrongdoing. If they fail to do so, they open the company up to potential wrongful discharge claims as well as other risks. For example, suppose there were multiple incidents, victims, or harassers that an investigation could have revealed? Sometimes, albeit not commonly, there are special circumstances and an investigation may not include the alleged harasser. For example, if the employee is new and in a probationary period the company may automatically dismiss him/her; if a group witnessed the incident or if the incident was caught on camera it may be fairly clear, etc.

Be sure that you know why you were fired (i.e., for sexual harassment rather than refusal to participate in an investigation). When you are discharged, request the specific reason for your termination, how that was determined, and a rationale for why you were not permitted to participate in the investigation to provide your perspective. File an immediate appeal with the company (you can try to do this even before you are fired), including a letter to the top executive. If that doesn't work, file for unemployment and argue that you were unfairly discharged.

Question: I had an arrest 10 years ago and was exonerated. Today I found out that someone sent a copy of the arrest to my corporate offices. Now I am being questioned. Do I have the right to request the documentation that corporate received?

Answer: The person who sent this seems to have some vendetta against you. Consider who this might be so that if appropriate, you can share the information with HR and maybe even your local police. As an investigator, I’ve seen people do this type of thing to an ex-spouse or someone they were stalking in an attempt to embarrass their target and jeopardize their target’s job. I’m not trying to put an idea in your head, just telling you that you know the person who did this to you, although you may not be fully aware of their motivations. However, never take matters into your own hands by seeking retaliation.

As far as your question regarding whether the Company can ask you questions about your arrest from 10 years ago even though you were not convicted … that varies substantially from one state to another. The answer may also depend on the nature of both your job (e.g., teacher, firefighter, factory worker) as well as the crime in question (e.g., child endangerment, arson, shoplifting). Even how you are legally permitted to refer to an exonerated charge when talking to an employer also varies by state.

Therefore, check the state law where you are employed: https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/state-laws... . Here’s a smattering of how varied the laws are on this issue:

• Some states expressly forbid employers from asking ANY employment-related questions about arrests that did not result in a conviction.

• Other states limit this restriction to arrests for felony crimes.

• Some states prohibit employers from asking about arrest/conviction records that have been sealed, pardoned, or expunged; which occurred in the distant past (e.g., 10 years or more); or which are of a certain type (e.g., civil disobedience, marijuana-related).

• A handful of states do not restrict employers from asking any criminal history-related questions.

Note that federal protections in place generally encourage the employer to consider three factors when making employment decisions based on criminal background: 1) the nature and gravity of the criminal conduct, 2) how much time has transpired, and 3) relevance to the job. Arrests and convictions are especially contentious issues when it comes to employment decisions because of the disproportionate number of minorities with criminal records. If they aren’t careful, employers flirt with race discrimination allegations when they tread in the territory of considering arrest and conviction records.

Ask for a copy of the document that was sent to your Company if they’ll be relying upon it to make an employment-based decision. Also, they should provide you an opportunity to explain the circumstances, including that this was an arrest ONLY and NOT a conviction, that it was 10 years ago, you were exonerated, and–if true–this arrest is not job-related whatsoever and you’ve lived an exemplary life since. Exhaust them with a list of ways in which you are a model citizen, both within the workplace and outside. And importantly, be prepared to provide your copy of the official court or police records that show that you were exonerated. If there is someone that you think may be behind this, tell them their name and why they’d do this because usually, trouble doesn’t end here.

And should you feel ashamed of that past arrest that haunts you? Please don’t. You’ve been working hard earning an honest living. Don’t let someone shame you for this, no matter their motives. You’re not alone with having been arrested, as one in three Americans has been arrested by age 23. Hold your head up high and defend yourself against whoever is doing this unfairly to you.

Question: In a very aggressive email, a coworker falsely accused me of doing something unethical. My supervisor considered taking it to HR but instead took it to her supervisor. I have proof that I did not engage in unethical conduct, but I cannot share it due to the nature of the job. Should I make sure HR is aware of the issue in case the individual backlashes worse, or should I just wait and see? Although my boss has responded to the accusatory email, I have not.

Answer: I recommend that you first check your company’s compliance policies because they probably require that any alleged violations of ethics, law, or Company policy be reported to HR immediately. That’s what your coworker was doing – making a compliance allegation, right? Your boss, therefore, should have followed the company’s prescribed process by reporting the emailed accusation of your ethical violation rather than handling it herself.

You’re probably best served now by connecting with HR. You can tell HR what happened and let them decide whether there is something to investigate. The benefit in having HR investigating the matter (other than the fact it was required) would be that they can review confidential information, substantiate or unsubstantiated the matter, and communicate with the individual who originally made these allegations against you. This includes conveying warnings against retaliation. Follow the process your company lays out in its compliance policies.

As a courtesy, you may want to give your boss a heads up that you are going to HR or have just consulted with HR so she is not surprised by a phone call from them.

Question: How many of these allegations result in termination, especially if it involves alleged drug abuse, even if the employee is completely honest with the investigator?

Answer: It's the company's discretion on how to handle violation of their policies. One would hope that they would follow what their policies specify and also be consistent with past practice (what they've done in past situations). My personal experience in HR in dealing with this type of situation is that reporting to work under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol is a terminable offense, and working while intoxicated -- particularly if you work with machinery or drive a vehicle -- potentially endangers the health and safety of the employee, coworkers, and others. A simple drug test reveals the truth no matter what the employee says.

I have personally known of situations where employees of other companies have not been fired, however, and have entered into "last chance" agreements with their employers. That was an example of someone who aggressively worked the system with the help of their union, but even they found that their chances ran out eventually. (Meth didn't belong in the workplace, and they couldn't quit.)

Question: My husband was falsely accused of sexual assault at work; HR conducted an investigation which did not substantiate the claim. The company had to alert the authorities. Is my husband likely to be arrested by authorities, even if the company had conducted an investigation and found the allegations had no merit?

Answer: Companies typically contact the local police during investigations for several reasons, including but not limited to these reasons:

1) the allegations involve violence (particularly in the #MeToo era)

2) a specific and credible threat to personal or workplace safety has been made, or

3) the alleged conduct extends outside the workplace (as with stalking).

The local authorities may pursue the matter or not after taking a look at the facts. The company has likely provided the results of their investigation to the police, including pertinent evidence (if it exists). Given that HR did not substantiate the allegations, one would hope that the Company's investigation was thorough enough that the police would make a similar finding if indeed your husband did not sexually assault anyone. Be sure, however, that that was the actual outcome of their investigation.

Question: Does our team have recourse? A director at work wants to absorb our team has tried throughout the past year to do so. She was stopped by our manager who passed away last December. The team is responsible for database installation & support. We're getting blamed in meetings where we or our new manager are not present. The director is trying to present a view that we are incompetent and need new management in her group.

Answer: Probably your best option is to approach a senior director or VP for your function, someone above this sneaky director's head. Do so as a group. Have your complaint nailed down with examples. Outline the director's unprofessional behavior and why the group doesn't feel it is appropriate that you fall within the director's new domain. She obviously wants to expand her territory. If you don't want to approach a senior director or VP for help in solving this problem, consider approaching the HR Director. Make sure all of this is not a surprise to your current manager; you don't want to blindside them. In approaching the executive for assistance, make sure you know what solution you are seeking. Do you want her to stop trash talking the team? Do you want someone from your team invited to certain meetings? Do you want an assurance that you won't fall under her purview? Something else?

Question: Since 2004, I have worked for a company that pays commissions in addition to an hourly rate. Recently, I was falsely accused of theft, and when the company did not substantiate the allegation, they took commissions away from me. These were past commissions, and this was done out of retribution, but the company that employs me is in an at-will state. Do I have any recourse?

Answer: Your big question for the company is whether they can explain WHY your past and future commissions were taken away from you. Since you indicate that they did not substantiate the theft allegation against you, I'm wondering what their rationale is for apparently disciplining you by decreasing your pay? Do they have an official explanation for that, one that's been given to you by HR and/or your management?

Rather than just assuming it's retribution, you need to hear their explanation again. Play dumb if you need to, saying you just don't understand and want to get past this. Ask them was the investigation substantiated? (According to your current understanding, it should be "NO - UNSUBSTANTIATED.")

Since it was unsubstantiated, then why was this pay change made? Was it made to everyone or just you? Would it have been made if there had been no allegation of theft in the first place? Why were your past commissions taken from you since you already earned those?

Right after you get out of the meeting or conversation, write down as exactly as possible the answers -- who you talked to, what was said, date/time/location, any witnesses, etc. If you think you have a case of retaliation, you may want to consult an attorney regarding your options.

© 2013 FlourishAnyway

Comments

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 19, 2020:

Elizabeth - Isn't it terrible that HR & Compliance people have these types of issues themselves? Between your manager who is no help, your coworkers who seem understanding during one-way conversations but may not back you up when the going gets rough, and another coworker who has daggers out, this doesn't feel like a good environment. You say you want to look for a new job but there are roadblocks. Just because there's a pandemic doesn't mean you can't freshen up your resume, apply to other jobs, and plan for the future. Maybe it's training/education in a different field that's in your future. You have to have something to hope for.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 19, 2020:

She-Ra - Stay well physically and emotionally and do what is best for you. It's never a defeat to protect yourself. You are not broken. You're moving away from something that is harmful to you. Rise above, my friend.

She-Ra from U.K on July 17, 2020:

Hello FlourishAnyway,

I do hope you’re well during this continued unsettling time!

It was about 6 months ago I last posted, and I wanted to thank you for giving me some strength. I feel a lot more like myself now, and each day makes me feel more like me again.

I was trying not to leave the job I mostly love, but I am now seeking other employment (as per your advice- where I will be welcomed!).

In the meantime I am working closely with my own allocated HR advisor which is fantastic. I can of course check my actions are proportional (not that this has ever been a concern!) and they are giving me little tips with my current circumstances. They are fully aware that grievances may come in at any given moment, and whilst I am somewhat apprehensive as it will be a real test as to how much stronger I currently feel, I have your information you share and HR.

I have internally admitted defeat regarding the toxic culture, but will continue to pursue change for the better until I find other work and leave.

As I continue to work (Doing a lot of 1:1’s with as many of the team as possible - in/direct reports) more details come to light as toxic people, liars, people who spread rumours or incite such things leak out information. I think a psychologist could undertake some research in my workplace because it is incredibly interesting. Sadly the byproduct is that it damages careers, people’s mental health and the organisation.

I strongly believe with things coming to light recently that I need a full culture review - but I don’t think my place is keen on that at the moment (lots of factors nothing to do with me- pandemic related mostly)

I’m uncertain how quickly a job will come up as they’re quite infrequent, I may be able to rotate within the organisation- too soon for me to go for a promotion! I have considered leaving my profession, but think this is still a byproduct of my experience at the moment. And it would be a waste for me, and for the contribution I make within my field (locally!- I’m not irreplaceable

Elizabeth on July 16, 2020:

Really interesting and useful article, thank you. I came across it when trying to figure out what to do with a difficult situation at work.

A colleague and I aren't getting along. My role involves advising about compliance, but every time I raise a compliance issue I get told it's not important, or am outright told that they are going to ignore the compliance issue. This comes from my colleague and other more senior team members. It's frustrating, demoralizing and feels like both my job and I are being disrespected.

My colleague and I used to work together fine - we were never going to be friends, but we worked together okay, but over time there has been more hostility from my colleague and I have gotten more defensive in response. I often feel ganged up against in meetings (my role sets me apart from the others) and I fully admit that I get defensive.

People have been sympathetic to me in one on one verbal conversations, but I suspect that should it come down to it they wouldn't speak up for me. My colleague and a couple of others in the team are good friends and form quite an intimidating clique, so it would be difficult for anyone to go out on a limb to side with me. I can understand this, but it makes me feel very alone. I did think about recording conversations, but I'm not certain of the legality and it seems an underhanded and sneaky thing to do. I don't want to be that type of person.

I don't think I would make a complaint, because I have no written proof (although I've started to ask for things in writing, which again is making me look like I'm being difficult), and as I say I don't think I would find anyone to corroborate what is happening. However, things feel like they are escalating and I do worry that someone will complain about me - possibly in an attempt to get rid of me, or just as another way of trying to discredit the role I do.

I have spoken to my manager about a couple of incidents but my manager is having a hard time too and can't offer me much support.

It's a horrible environment to work in. Had it not been for Covid I would look for a new job, but my options are very limited due to the labor market where I live and a long-term disability.

This was a far longer comment than I initially intended, but it has been useful for me, and your article has been particularly helpful in better understanding the role played by someone investigating a complaint. Thank you.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 13, 2020:

KUMARAN GOVINDASAMY - I am unfamiliar with what options you may have in Malaysia, as I am in the United States. One place to ask questions may be either a local employment attorney's office or whatever government agency in your country deals with wage and hour issues (e.g., Department of Labor). I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help.

KUMARAN GOVINDASAMY on July 12, 2020:

Dear Flourish,

I am a healthcare staff, working in a private hospital in kuala lumpur.

In June 2019, My colleague had made written complaints about me to my manager. I was called for counselling by my manager, despite the complaints were fabricated and baseless.

My grievance was against my colleague who had made false allegation. As a result I obtained poor performance rating and not awarded bonus and increment.

I have emailed my response and justification to the complaints but there were no response from my manager, hence I forwarded a grievance letter to the COO who is my manager's superior.

The COO had passed in the grievance letter to the HR director. I received a reply letter from HR but my grievance was not heard at all. The failed to investigate the complaint despite the evidences I provided.

My appraisal was indeed unfair and I became a victim if false allegation. Please advise.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on June 25, 2020:

Darrell - You have new information about why the complaint might have been lodged against you for a false reason. Therefore, yes, offer that up to the investigator. You do need to explain why you didn't offer the information previously.

Also, try to tamp down any desire to avenge yourself through legal means or a counter complaint, etc. It's an overreaction and could mean retaliation. Also, if you NEVER use "sweetie," "honey" or another professionally demeaning term to females in the workplace, then emphatically say so, don't just say you don't remember. Good luck.

Darrell Renfrow on June 24, 2020:

Hi FlourishAnyway,

I was just contacted by HR investigator. A Co-worker filed a complaint on me about calling her names such as "shug, honey, darlin" which I have never done. I was asked if I could have possibly said anything else. As I have NEVER used those words I told her I do not use any of those words, intern told her IF I called her anything it would have been in a phrase like "thank you sweetie" or "no problem sweetie" but I did not remember saying anything of the sorts to her as I'm VERY happily married to my best friend and would never put that in jeopardy. She also asked a 2 other questions that she said were complained about both were inventory related. She asked if I knew anything about a product in a bag in the safe room with sold on it, which I did not know anything about this. Second was during inventory one more we were missing a product and it is our job to attempt to find missing product. I noticed none of the garbage cans had been emptied so I went through them and found the missing item in the accusers garbage. I politely let her know I had found the missing item and it was in her garbage and I would let her take care of it as it could have been an accident and missed. After a conversation with my boss he informed me this stemmed from the phone in a bag question which actually wasn't a phone in a bag, it was a case that was put in the safe room and because I continued to scan it every morning she apparently got into trouble as the mistake was something with her and one of her customers. This appears that after she complained to our boss about this and saw I was not at any fault she then proceeded to file a complaint with HR about calling her names that made her uncomfortable. At this point should I reach back out to the investigator whos final question to me was do I know any reason why she would file a complaint against me, to let her know that I was informed that it stems from the inventory issue she got in trouble for? I have NEVER had a complaint like this on me and I've been in management for over 20 years myself. I make it a point to NOT step on toes and I was completely blown away by the HR call. With this would this not be considered a defamation of character against me? This damages my reputation with the company and feels like a retaliation against me for her mess up. Do I have legal growns to pursue against either her or the company?

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 20, 2020:

Sylvester - I'm sorry to hear that. I hope the article helps you with what to do.

Sylvester on March 19, 2020:

Im been accused at work with something i didnt do

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 12, 2020:

Samuel - It's better to report a concern regarding alleged investigation unfairness BEFORE the termination decision is made. Report her alleged misbehavior now.

Samuel on March 12, 2020:

Hi, I am currently in a non-union financial institution and i have been accused of personal client information misconduct. I had never agreed to this misconduct as it was all for the business purpose of my job and they are currently under investigation with me suspended from work with personal pay. The problem is, they told me not to discuss this matter with anyone. When i told HR information about how a certain manager in the office mentioned that i was allowed to look up a certain information, HR did not interview that manager and shared that information to my Senior Manager who in fact question that manager which he denied saying. HR then tried to find proof that I infact should of been aware of the new policy change that was sent out by the Senior Manager regarding certain teams must be aware of new privacy rules which although I received the email, it did not pertain to my specific department. It all seems like she cannot find proof to terminate me but during our conversation she tried to get me to answer in a way where i should admit to my fault. My only question is, should I report this HR rep, how she shared information to my Sr Mgr who leaked it to another manager? She said she will get back to me once another investigation is finalized by next week. If she fires me because of this, is there any way i can disagree with her on that day i meet with her? I am not sure if i should report her to another Sr HR or wait until she decides my fate if i am to be fired or not.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 06, 2020:

Gregg - Much of that depends on whether you're a union represented employee, what state you're in, what your company policies are, and what you allegedly did. Look at your company policies regarding investigations and whatever you're allegedly charged with (if you know) for more information.

Gregg on February 06, 2020:

I was susoended with pay today to investigate an allegation made against me. Do I have any rights in this process?

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2020:

NowFearful - I wish you the best. Stay calm, focus on staying positive internally and doing your job and you should flourish anyway!

NowFearful on January 07, 2020:

Hi FlourishAnyway,

Thank you very much for your advice! I'm definitely making self-care a priority after this experience, and I will make sure to get professional help if I need it. So far my management and HR have been very supportive of me and hopefully will continue as we work our way through the next steps. I am doing my best to treat this person consistently and professionally while documenting everything, so hopefully this will be resolved soon. Your encouragement helps, and it's good to know that successful litigation is rare. While I understand that there are circumstances in which companies and managers should be held accountable for inappropriate behavior, this is not one of them and I'm glad the system makes it hard to succeed when it is not warranted.

Thank you!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2020:

NowFearful - It's not an uncommon tactic for poor performing employees to make a complaint of differential treatment when they feel their employment may be in jeopardy. As an investigator, I’d see predictable seasonal fluctuations with the numbers of complaints jumpngi significantly right before performance review time. It happened every year. As a PCA (Person Complained About), your fear of a subsequent retaliation complaint is also not uncommon. Although it’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to be alone with this employee, you have to take care to treat them professionally and consistently.

First, consider talking to a counselor about your feelings of anxiety. Pursue appropriate stress relief options for yourself (e.g., talk therapy, exercise, learning relaxation techniques, maybe even meds if you're very anxious). Just do this for YOU before the stress interferes with your health. Also make sure that you eat right, get good sleep, and otherwise take good care of your health.

Second, as tempting as it might be, do not discuss the case with subordinates. Also do not name call even privately ("she's nuts!"), gossip to peer managers, or give the employee any fodder for a potential retaliation complaint. If you need HR to walk you through the definition of retaliation, request a meeting. You can also read examples of retaliation on the EEOC website. Because you have a “challenging” employee, I recommend re-reading your employer’s Anti-Retaliation Policy as well as its Performance Management Policy, EEO Policy, Anti-Harassment Policy, FMLA Policy, and Individuals with Disabilities Policy. Knowing in advance what these policies say can help you navigate difficult conversations.

The other side of this dilemma is just as important. You need to performance manage this person because they are your employee and are there to WORK. I hope both HR and your management vigorously support you in this. Performance manage the employee in close communication with your management and HR when you aren’t sure, and be CONSISTENT. No better or worse treatment because you are fearful of a retaliation complaint, but use HR as a sounding board when needed -- certainly before administering discipline, having important follow-up performance discussions, significantly reassigning job duties, changing rates of pay/work location/work hours, etc. Arrange your partnerships in advance of actually needing them.

Also develop the habit of documenting via email key conversations with all your employees so there is a trail, and have an HR or management partner, for example, sit in on critical performance conversations. If you have managed this employee well and there is a longstanding, documented record of this person’s failing performance, then you can begin to press HR on 1) how soon you can fairly assign a poor performance rating, 2) when and how to develop a performance improvement plan, and 3) eventually discharging the employee.

Lastly, although this employee may appear litigious, know that her odds of success are are not high. In order to sue, an employee has to make a complaint to the company and then to the EEOC or state human rights board. Rarely does the EEOC actually sue on their behalf. After as much as two years, the employee may be issued a right to sue letter if the EEOC didn’t want to take up their case. People often do not follow through with that because it’s expensive and they bear the cost of suing their employer. This long and potentially expensive endeavor is bad news for employees who have complaints (no matter how legitimate). However, I hope this helps you put the looming threat in better perspective.

Fear not! Just try to focus on the job and treating employees consistently and professionally.

NowFearful on January 07, 2020:

Hi FlourishAnyway,

One of my staff filed a complaint against me and our organization alleging that we discriminated against them based on past FMLA and ADA requests. This individual also alleged that I violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against them because of their race. This person has a long track record of poor performance and threw these allegations out there once they realized we were preparing to terminate them. Thankfully the external investigation found no evidence to substantiate their claims (as we knew it would) but now I'm stuck with them on my team. I am terrified to be alone with them and it makes it hard to manage their work. HR knows and has asked me to be patient as we hold this person accountable for their work so we can finally terminate them without risk of a retaliation suit, but I'm the one doing all of the work here. I have never been so stressed out in my life. I'm also angry that this person could make false and unsubstantiated allegations (specifically Title VII) but glad that my reputation and personal conduct speak for themselves. How do I move past this? I know HR's hands are tied because of retaliation concerns (and trust me, this person is probably chomping at the bit to sue at the first hint of anything suspicious) but how to I protect myself from this person and still get my job done? This feels impossible.

Thank you for your advice!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 01, 2020:

She-Ra - Competence in the midst of chaos is often not welcomed or rewarded. I wish you well in moving forward both with your complaint and your own future. Take good care of your own health and don't be afraid to pursue other opportunities where your talents will be better appreciated.

She-Ra from U.K on January 01, 2020:

Thank you FlourishAnyway.

I have strong suspicions that there is a core few involved. I put the potential motivations I shall mention below to one side because I can’t quite believe that these could make someone feel so strongly in order to do this. I find it a struggle to imagine such extreme lengths of revenge I guess. Here is my key summary in brief;

- I was successful over other candidates for the position and they don’t see me as experienced enough/ they’re jealous/ they just don’t want me in post.

- fearful of change I may bring in.

- Potentially angry that I expect them to act in the professional capacity they should be, at the level they should (there are regular challenges from a few that are not, but this behaviour is long standing and has been unchallenged prior to my appointment)

I have taken into consideration:

- emotions for those who were unsuccessful for the position

- education/ training needs

- managing expectations

I am however aware that there is a definite lack of awareness/ knowledge around policies and procedures (even those that they have used for many yrs as part of their long standing jobs) and so as you have suggested, there’s real potential they may genuinely consider there to be a complaint/ allegation to be upheld.

I don’t think there are any legally protected characteristics of me that is a part of this, maybe some element of personal dislike, and a general dislike of my management style but mostly if I think back over my time in post it’s that they don’t particularly like that they (like all of us) are answerable for what we do/ don’t do.

I can’t deny it is affecting me and I hope that I hear more soon because I hide it very well (mostly). Thank you.

wishing you a very Happy New Year!!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on December 26, 2019:

She-Ra - People make allegations for many reasons. Many times they fully believe their own claims. Other times they feel backed in a corner and just want to cause trouble for another -- a revenge motive. Or they aren't certain whether something is against a policy or not, so they complain so that it can be investigated.

If the same person is repeatedly making false allegations against you, consider what their specific motivation might be. Is it jealousy or personal dislike, racism/sexism/another illegal motivator, something else? Offer up a potential explanation for their behavior. If it's a ring of people -- a wolf pack mentality and you're being ganged up on -- describe their motivation, the ring leader, how it started and has built up over time, etc. Remember: just because someone makes an allegation doesn't mean it will be substantiated.

She-Ra from U.K on December 23, 2019:

I can’t thank you enough for your depth of detail regarding being accused of wrong doing. It’s incredibly informative, stabilising and factual; amazing.

Right before breaking up for the holidays I have had a serious allegation against me - which is untrue. I completely support any questions and investigation.

The best way I can describe it is that I have been in a tail spin since finding out and your information has been my turning point. I feel more human again, it made me feel incredibly unstable! Pep talking just wasn’t working, now I have a plan and focus. I was struggling because at my very core , my personal values are being attacked. I hold myself to high standards and would never jeopardise a Job I love and my livelihood.

The only thing I need to let go of perhaps is motivation of false allegations as this is not the first (Unsubstantiated) allegation. I’m struggling due to the incredible amount of effort that is going into the allegations. I know I’m going to answer my own question due to the position I find myself in but... can a person/s really feel so strongly about their gripe to do this???

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 29, 2019:

Stressedout - There has to be a reason that the first bystander falsely believes that you interjected sex talk into a normal interpersonal conversation with a work friend. Do you routinely engage in foul, offensive banter in the workplace? Did you have an affair with someone in the workplace that is now over? Does someone have it out for you? In the first complaint, a bystander came forward and complained. The “friend” you were supposedly talking to in a sexual manner could have easily settled the matter when they questioned her by quickly stating that no, you didn’t say anything at all of a sexual or inappropriate nature OR that you did utter the sex talk but it was not unwelcome. Apparently, however, this friend didn’t do this or maybe they weren’t interviewed (although that would be hard to imagine).

Either way, in the write-up you should know what work policy or rule you violated. You should have been given clear verbal direction regarding non-retaliation and better guidance on whether it was okay to discuss the incident. (As an employee, I’d err on the side of not discussing it with coworkers because you don’t know who you can truly trust.) You had the option to refuse to sign the discipline, write an objection on the disciple slip, or file an appeal. You could have also filed your own internal company complaint regarding the behavior of the investigator if you felt it violated a company policy regarding how the company says it investigates employee complaints.

In the second complaint against you, note that the investigator doesn’t necessarily have to tell you what you were alleged to have said. They don’t necessarily have to tell you what the complaint is about at all. Instead, they can simply ask the various parties what happened in a given circumstance or conversation so as not to lead anyone in their recall.

Unfortunately, you seem to have trusted the wrong work friend again in this second complaint. I’d wonder what her relationship is with the first work friend that you allegedly said sexual things to? There are some relationship dynamics that aren’t adding up. It's also very possible that you don't communicate as clearly as you perceive that you do.

When talking to the investigator, stick to the facts in telling your story and be honest. You need to establish yourself as credible. If you do not trust the investigator to be neutral, ask from the outset for a different investigator and be prepared to give your reasons. Keep the reasons behavioral (e.g., wouldn’t let me finish my sentences, tried to put words in my mouth, questions were accusatory rather than fact-finding). However, since you are past the interview point in the second investigation, be prepared for some stiff discipline up to and including discharge. Be sure you know what work policy you allegedly violated. Threats usually should be specific and severe to be terminable. Ask what your alleged threat was. You can always deny it again but if they truly believe you are a threat then you'll be fired. File an appeal internally and file for unemployment if you lose your job.

Stressedout on October 28, 2019:

Hi. I was written up 3-4 weeks ago for telling a female, whom i thought was a friend, that she should really take care of herself. The write up supposedly stated that another employee overheard this and reported to HR. It was supposedly stated that i mentioned oral sex and masturbation. During the investigation meeting, I told the investigator that I do not speak to anyone like that besides my wife and I believe whatever had been said about me was a misunderstanding. However, I was never told what I had been accused of saying, when this occurred nor any other detail regarding this write up. The investigator would not give me any facts regarding this incident and treated me with extreme hostility. I was told I could speak to coworkers about this but to use my discretion. Well, a few days ago, I was speaking with a female friend at work and told her in a very vague way what was happening and that I directly told the investigator that I only speak like that to my wife. Well, now there is an investigation again against me, because this "friend" felt scared of me after I relayed the story to her. I again was not given any information regarding what specifically I had said, a date, a time or a location of this conversation. I am being treated as if my rights mean nothing. And once again, the investigator was very hostile towards me and was unwilling to be forthcoming with any information. As if I am supposed to just accept the accusation and go along with it. I have not been called in to hear the results of the investigation yet, but this seems very flimsy but I am afraid that the investigator really has it out for me. What can I do?

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 26, 2019:

OnBake - Write a letter to the plant manager or whoever is the top official onsite at your work location and complain of mistaken identity. Also file an unemployment claim. If you think it's a racial issue, claim racial discrimination. People often misidentify others of a different race. Make sure you keep a copy of your letter to the company. You may need it for your unemployment hearing.

OnBake on October 25, 2019:

I was accused of causing a scene that never happened and the HR lady was completely unreasonable. I was guilty simply by accusation and I was not permitted to defend myself. I was fired the next day. This came out of nowhere and she wouldn't listen to the fact that she had the wrong person. No investigation was done at all

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on August 24, 2019:

"The Bad Guy" - If you have not violated any work rules, your coworker has an uphill battle. You have the gift of being able to keep your stress on the inside so take a real deep breath and "kill 'em with kindness." It's hard to hate a guy smiles, calls you by name, asks how your family is, always says good morning, and is the nicest guy to know. You can do this to everyone or take a couple of more "neutral" co-workers and begin to work on them.

"The Bad Guy" on August 23, 2019:

Hello FlourishAnyway,

Thank you for all of your responses to the other posters, it's allowed me a sense of vulnerability to explain my case. I have not had a grievance/complaint filed against me but I believe that I may have one coming and I would like to get my little ducks in a row. Long story short (maybe not so short) I started a position and it has been drama since the beginning, I found out from my prior supervisor that the employee in my position prior to me had been transferred from another worksite to this site and was switched back to his original site and caused him to file a lawsuit against my employer. What makes this pivotal in this scenario is I believe this has alot to do with why some may dislike me in my work environment, perhaps they knew the guy and I am also a newbie coming in making more $. When I had resigned from my ex-employer and the current employer told me that I did not have a job, and that there was a hold on my position, AFTER I had given my old employer a resignation letter and they confirmed a start date so I was pretty much in job limbo for 2 weeks... Fast forward they solidified that I was hired and I became well acquainted with coworkers. When I first started at this place there was a distinct line of division between coworkers, side 1 & 2 and a few straggling neutrals. I became close to a coworker on one of those sides while on probation we almost were like work best friends but I think it was a tactic looking back. This particular employee went out on leave for 2 months and when they came back they seemed a bit different. When they came back , I recall we had a conversation with my supervisor that prior to my coming other staff felt that I didn't need to be there and that what I was hired for was not needed and that I was getting paid more than others (about $50-$100 more/month). When 2 staff members were doing the work that is under my job title prior to me being here and whilst.

I have noticed this same coworker has followed me when I am supervising staff, when I am speaking with customers, often interrupts me when someone directs a question at me as if they knows the answer to the question best, has even raised their voice at me before because they were upset that I wouldn't agree to taking on some of their workload instead I said I would do as I could and as time permitted. I guess they didn't feel that I had a large workload since I don't verbalize my feelings of being overwhelmed. They have also managed to successfully ostracize me from other staff members including interns, since they arrived back from leave I had noticed a tremendous difference in the interns cooperation when given tasks.

So there's the background but I believe that they are doing all of this to build a case against me and file a grievance and I think they will try to go after my character or unfair workload. I will be honest and say that at times I can be direct when giving information but this is because I've learned in the hard way that in this particular environment you will be ran over if not. I believe that they may be against me to because I was not an ally when they didn't care for the new superior which I didn't either but I don't like to get involved in work politics, I really don't know what the motive is for maybe wanting to start on this but I really have a gut feeling based off of little events that have transpired.... What do you recommend, I've started documenting but I am afraid I've started to late because it started about 6 months ago? By the way, a topper in all of this is we are protected by union and she is well liked by union reps within the office including the grievance rep.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on August 09, 2019:

Louder please - I wish you well.

Louder please on August 07, 2019:

Dear FlourishAnyway,

Thank you for the reply. The gossip was about our coworkers' extra marital affair. HR has not talked to me since and I am just going to play it cool.

Louder Please

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on August 05, 2019:

Peppertree - So I trust that you’re neither 1) a probationary employee who would be subject to discharge for even small infractions during their probationary employment period nor 2) an independent contractor, temporary or seasonal worker, or employed by a third party. In other words, you’re a regular employee of the Company just like your ex-friend who brought the complaint against you.

You’re free to file an appeal if you disagree with the outcome, process, and/or treatment you receive during an HR investigation. Obviously, if you are represented by a union, connect with your union steward for representation ASAP. An attorney consult may be helpful. I strongly encourage you to start looking for other work while you pursue the described options since the deck seems so stacked against you.

Appeal to an executive-level decision-maker who has the authority to fix the situation. Consider writing out your complaint and emailing or certify mailing it so that there is a record. Succinctly describe your work history with the company, including your length of employment, performance history, general reputation, and any accolades or other information that make you stand out. Tell how you depend on this job (e.g., single mother of 4 month old), and if you are drug-free -- which I sure hope you are -- then make a HUGE point about that. Note that although you’ve offered to take polygraphs, they’re NOT going to take you up on this (see the Employee Polygraph Protection Act).

Describe the complainant as well. (If she is a CURRENT user of illegal drugs rather than an ex-addict, it’s vital to correct that misinformation, but you also might want to slip in why you were friends with such an individual.) Summarize the complainant’s convictions, current criminal cases, and her history of illegal drug abuse and legal issues to the extent they are relevant to the current matter. Include the facts of your HR employment case and any supporting evidence you have in your letter. Importantly, supply the names of any fact witnesses (as opposed to character witnesses) who can support your account.

Describe logically and convincingly WHY it would be so hard to believe the complainant’s account as true. Offer motives for why the complainant would want to frame you. This goes to credibility. Also look up the workplace drug policy and see if the Company is following its own policy.

Even before you are disciplined/discharged, you can file an HR complaint of your own about the investigator’s failure to adequately investigate the matter (which includes giving you a chance to present your side, being a neutral fact-finder, etc.). Take a look at your employer’s policy on the investigation process and use it to frame your complaint. Specifically, how did the investigator fail to abide by the policy?

I hope this helps. Good luck.

Peppertree on August 04, 2019:

Thanks for the speedy response! Much appreciated.

Yes, that is also how I feel..what is missing here!?

The photo was taken on that day...2 whole months ago...the fact she reports this alleged incident 2 months later didnt seem strange to the investigator.

The fact that the very NEXT day of alleged incident the complainant was at my house for my birthday with no worries, didnt seem to matter.

Just to ask, as you are the pro at this, when I log my internal appeal, what approach do I take differently?

How else can I make it obvious that I am innocent if I am not allowed a polygraph/drug test?

As an investigator, what would you look for to indicate the complainant is not credible?

Should I go dig up the details of the current police fraud case she is involved in? Would that matter if I brought it into evidence? To show that that she is capable of such things...

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on August 02, 2019:

Peppertree - There has to be some information missing here because this just doesn't make sense. (That's probably what you're saying too.) Think about what motive she has to falsely accuse you and frame you.

One thing I would check if I were the investigator is the date and time of the photo which one can do by looking at its metadata. The investigator would be looking to see that the photo was taken when the complainant said it was (and not in July or last year, for example). Of course, even if the photo was taken on the date/time of the alleged incident this does NOT prove the contents of the photo included illegal drugs or that you offered the container to your former friend. I'd look at the information more as an indicator of credibility to potentially cast doubt on the complainant's allegations.

As far as options, appeal the termination decision within your company and complain that there was a failure to adequately investigate. If you lose your job, file for unemployment immediately indicating that you were wrongfully discharged.

Peppertree on August 02, 2019:

I have been accused by a colleague of "having drugs on me and offering them to her".

This colleague and I were best friends and we had a falling out. She claims this incident happened in May. She reports this 2 days ago, end of July.

She shows a photo she took on her phone of a 'container with drugs in' - which just looks like a small box with cotton woool. She claims I gave her this with drugs in.

I have never seen this container before. I have a 4 month old child! Not the type to have this!

In the investigation/inquiry, I told thr investigator I have a clean work record, got character witnesses, explained I am a single mother, why would I jeopordize my job?

The ex friend then defended saying she saw drug resedue in 'some' of the bathrooms and thinks its me. Also that she saw me a week ago with the same container. And that she stopped speaking to me after alleged incidient in may. Said I gave her the drugs because I know she is an ex-addict.

The shock! A blatant lie!! I told her so in the meeting!!! I showed the investigator she has been chatting to me online every day almost since the incident.

How can this be valid? That was the ONLY evidence they had. Its like me taking a random photo of drug container, saying you gave it to me, no other proof, and then im fired!?

When investigator asked why she would lie and risk her job, i told him beacuse she has done worse before! She is currently involved in fraud cases with the police, how is that a credible witness?

I said I will take a drug test. They said wont help, that is not the charge. The charge is distribution. I offered to pay for my own polygraph to save my job!! They said nothing.

End of meeting..investigator said he recommends dismissal as trust relationship broken down...employer HR person agreeed.

I am left reeling in shock..how can this be allowed to happen when the only evidence is one persons statement?? She doesnt even have the said container! Just a photo she took

Pls help .....i am so distraught at being the victim of bad blood and the fact I cant do anything to save my job?

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on August 01, 2019:

Louder please - I don't know what type of issue the gossip involved so it's hard to assess the priority, complexity, or HR's investigative workload. It's okay to ask HR about the status of an investigation, too. They may not tell a mere witness.

HR should be nearing completion about now on the investigation if it's not done already. A complex investigation may take longer. Remember you did NOT tell him about an investigation, and if your behavior tipped him off then it was accidental. You simply didn't want to be exposed to more of his gossip. HR and/or management should have shut the gossip down with references to professional behavior, focusing on work, etc. Evidently they either failed to do this or your coworker is persistent in his rumor spreading habits.

Both HR and your coworker overreacted. If you didn't do anything, keep repeating your story like a broken record when the relevant party is not listening to you. (There's a reason it's called the "broken record technique.") It would have been better if you had said, "Don't gossip because I don't want to hear it" or "because it's distracting" (rather than "because HR will investigate you") but that's what you meant. I would not expect disciple but if you do receive it, you might consider an appeal to a more reasonable mind. I would refuse to sign any discipline for this issue because it's silly.

Louder please on July 31, 2019:

Dear FlourishAnyway,

About a month ago I was called in to HR as a witness on something my coworker had said (some gossip). I honestly don't remember that he said that because it was long time ago (2 years according to HR). Last week that same coworker began to gossip about someone so I told him to not gossip because he is going to get investigated by HR. He took that as he is being investigated by HR. Now HR heard about the fact that he how knows about the investigation. HR had heard that I warned him about the investigation. I told HR exactly what I told him about not gossiping or he will be investigated so HR told me to not talk to him about that from now on. Am I in trouble? Am I going to get discipline for this? Is it normal for HR to take this long to investigate?

Thanks in advance!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on June 03, 2019:

Abe - You must be VERY inexperienced to believe that an employee can simply demand that a lawyer be present to represent him or her in an internal company matter. It doesn't work that way, sir.

Additionally, they wouldn't reasonably consent to the recording of a conversation. Keep in mind, too, that if you record a conversation surreptitiously you may be breaking state wiretapping laws, depending on what state you're in (check to see if your state has a one party vs. two-party consent law). Regardless, many companies have policies that specifically forbid recording of conversations. Rather than make an enemy of the investigator before the thing has started, maybe you should try your best to put your best foot forward. Although there are some crooked HR people an managers, not everyone is like that. You're very cynical.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on May 24, 2019:

TakingtheL - Oh, wow. First, let’s go over what you did right. You didn’t try to kiss her or make a romantic move. You didn’t undress yourself or her or sleep under the covers. However, you should not have been in that hotel room uninvited. You should not have touched her at all or slept in the bed, stayed with her, monitored her behavior at the bar, etc. as it wasn’t your role as a coworker. If you were concerned for her safety there were other actions you could have taken. If she is your subordinate rather than a coworker this is really an issue because she may have felt you were coercing her to go along. Both of you were representing the company at that conference (yes, even off duty) and should not have had so much alcohol that your judgment could be impaired.

All this is beside the point now. You’ve been honest about your mistake. (Had you lied they would have had to assess credibility. People do get found out. You did the right thing). Throw yourself at HR’s mercy, and emphasize you are 100% coachable and will learn from this situation. I’d expect some type of discipline regardless and if you’re her boss then serious discipline up to and including termination. Watch the drinking at company events. I wish you well.

TakingtheL on May 24, 2019:

Hi Flourish, this article was helpful and I'd like to tell my story and get your thoughts. I was just interviewed by HR for a complaint about haras