with Stephen Hammond
Tip #11 — DEAL WITH FALSE ACCUSERS
Many supervisors get worried that an employee can use harassment as a way of bringing down a boss or colleague he doesn't like. It can happen, but it's very, very rare. On a different front, anyone can falsely accuse us of assault; it's a chance we take in a free and democratic system. If it happens, we hope the system works. If a case proves that the system is flawed, we don't shut down the entire criminal justice system; we try to tighten up the loopholes. The bottom line is, the system works most of the time.
Harassment and the human rights process work on the same assumption. If someone knowingly makes a false accusation, most of the time, the system will work. The accusation will be out of line with the character of the supposed harasser, the so-called victim will slip up on some lie, or the accuser will confess.
And there must be consequences for a false accuser. The bigger problem is workplaces that fail to deal with harassment complaints. Too often, managers assigned to address the harassment have no idea how to handle it effectively. When they deem something to be a false accusation, they make the mistake of letting it die, thus leaving the wrongfully accused person undisciplined but steaming. For the sake of fairness, employee morale, and avoidance of future such cases, if not for overall honesty's sake, I say it's far better to take stern action against the person who knowingly made the false accusation
The fact that false accusations are rare is little comfort to those who find themselves falsely accused. In my experience, when a case doesn't progress to the point they can clear their name, or when it takes too long to do so, they feel, rightfully so, that the system isn't working.
1) Don't confuse a misunderstanding with a false accusation - as they are very different. There are many cases of a misunderstanding. A person thought something was said, when it wasn't, or something was taken completely out of context. When cooler heads prevail, you ask a few questions and the matter is
resolved, then you realize there was no harassment at all. That is not a false accusation.
2) Prevent a false accusation from becoming workplace folk lore - as so often that's what they become. When a person is falsely accused and you discover this, if the situation isn't handled and people aren't informed, then for years later people will point to that example as to why the system doesn't work. You'd be amazed
how little people remember of a real harassment case, but how long their memories last for a false accusation.
3) Keep an eye on the false accuser - as there may be other things going on. Since people rarely falsely accuse a colleague of harassment, I figure there has to be something else going on with that person. I'm no psychologist, but I figure this person is in need of just a bit more supervision. Don't "harass" this person,
but keep an eye out. When they've proven themselves, then things can get back to normal.
This is TIP #11 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors.
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