Being accused of anything in the workplace can be traumatising, especially when it’s without merit! Your entire world is flipped upside down, and your every move scrutinised. You then start questioning how to act to prove your innocence and how to hold it together when you really want to just scream the entire place down.
While your natural instinct would be to get angry at the person accusing you of something untrue, in the workplace you need to handle the situation with caution. Even if you’re innocent, all eyes are on you now, so you need to act carefully while you let the truth unravel.
To help you keep cool under the collar, we’ve prepared these top tips for you to follow when you’ve been falsely accused at work.
1. Stay Calm
The first and most important tip to follow is to stay calm. No matter how angry or upset you are, you must try to not let these emotions get the best of you! You’re a professional, so prove that you can handle difficult situations with grace and dignity.
Don’t retaliate, and don’t throw accusations back at the accuser. If you’ve had many years of good service, your HR investigator probably already knows that the claims are false, but they still need to carry out their investigations and follow the normal procedures.
2. Cooperate with Investigations
Which brings us to our next point: be cooperative with the investigator. Whether you agree or not with the accusations, they will still carry out any necessary investigations. And it’s better to on board and have the opportunity to share your side of the story rather than being completely excluded.
If someone has it in for you, they will try to do everything in their power to drag you down, which is why it’s vital that you have your voice, too. By answering all the investigator’s questions, you show that you have nothing to hide and that you want to get to see the back of this false allegation.
3. Document all the Details
Once an accusation has been brought to you, it’s essential to document all the details of what happened. Write down every detail of the interrogation process and make notes of anything that shocks you during the course of its development.
If people at work also begin to act hostile towards you, make a note of it and let your HR investigator know the full depth of the situation. They need to be aware of how this accusation is affecting your job and your time at work.
4. Offer Supporting Evidence
Once a coworker has made false allegations against you, you need to gather any supporting evidence that you can to prove your innocence. This can include emails, text messages and any other hard evidence.
Even if you don’t have physical evidence, write down every detail that you can recollect about your accuser and the incident that they are accusing you of; you can then use this information for your formal report and investigation. Any form of evidence is important, especially in sexual harassment cases.
5. Mind Your Body Language
When we are under attack, our body language tends to close off and become defensive. However, this type of body language can also suggest that you have something to hide, like when you fold your arms and avoid looking into your investigator’s eyes.
Janine Driver, a former FBI, CIA and ATF agent trainer, told Inc that you should take note of where a person's feet or belly button are pointing to determine their true interest or intentions and that a shoulder shrug can indicate uncertainty.
6. Seek Legal Advice
To prepare yourself for the worst, seek legal advice to figure out where you stand. With highly delicate accusations like gross misconduct, theft and sexual abuse, you’ll want to be aware of your rights and all the legal processes.
Protect yourself and your job as best as you can by consulting with a lawyer that will guide you through the motions of a work accusation. However, make sure you hire an attorney that’s focused on employment law who will be able to defend your case.
Of course, if you seek legal advice, you should be aware that it will come out of your own pocket. So, only settle for this option if you fear that your job is on the line. If not, just go through the motion of the investigation and oblige as much as possible.
7. Gather Your Witnesses
If another coworker was present during the incident that you’re being accused of, mention this to your HR manager and request for them to be included in the case as a witness. We know it’s hard dragging a third person into the mix, but if you want to prove your innocence, you’re going to need someone that’s on your side.
The more witnesses, the better! Speak to everyone that was in the office at the time and let them know that you’re going to give their name as a witness and that they may be called in for questioning by a member of the HR team.
8. Be Truthful
Honesty is always the best policy. So, if you feel like you could have said something that led to the misunderstanding, be honest about it and tell HR what your true intentions were. It’s best to view the situation as an outsider and put her hands up if you can see that you have done something wrong.
On the other hand, if you feel like you’ve done nothing wrong, be truthful about this also. You can apologise for the other person feeling that way, but insist that you’re innocent, and say that you will be more cautious in the future so that you don’t upset anyone else.
9. Don’t Hide Away
Although it’s tempting to slip off the radar and hide out, it will only spark suspicion that you are guilty. While the entire investigation process is uncomfortable, it’s important to go about your day-to-day duties as you would prior to the accusation.
Remain in good spirits and keep up the same standard of your work; don’t let it slip because you’re going through a tough time. This will only give your accuser more ammunition to suggest that you are in the wrong.
10. Repair Relationships
Once the formal processes have come to an end and you have proved your innocence, try not to hold a grudge against your accuser. Show that you’re a bigger person by extending an olive branch to mend your relationship.
If you’re serious about your career in the company, you won’t want to have bad feelings with anyone – it will waste too much time and energy. Instead, find a way that you can work together and be civil towards one another. You don’t have to be best buddies, but you do have to be a good team player.
Being falsely accused of something at work is tough, but the way you respond to the accusations will prove your worth. By following the advice above, you’ll be able to stay strong and handle the situation with plenty of caution.
Have you ever been wrongly accused of something in the workplace? Join in on the conversation below and let us know about your experiences.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 3 March 2016.