to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond


Many supervisors get worried that employees can use a false claim of harassment as a way of bringing down a boss or colleague they don’t like. It can happen, but it's very, very rare.


Recently, the #IBelieveHer Movement has been in response to many women not being believed regarding sexual harassment or sexual assault. Since most women (or anyone for that matter) do not make up, or exaggerate inappropriate behaviour, we truly want to believe people when they come forward with information. However, a good and fair system ensures people get to hear complaints against them, and respond.


When the facts support a complaint in or around the workplace, discipline will be taken. When the facts don’t support a complaint, or there’s not enough to prove the complaint, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and there could be more oversight to keep an eye on things.


These are very different from complaints made when the complainer knows full well there’s no truth to them. If someone knowingly makes a false accusation, most of the time, the system will work and the facts will come out. The accusation may be out of line with the character of the accused harasser, or the so-called victim will slip up on some lie, or the accuser will confess. These are rare, but they happen. And in cases like these, there must be consequences for a false accuser.


If there are no consequences for a false accusation, others will think they can get away with the same and the wrongly accused will be furious. 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, 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, you realize there was no harassment at all, and the matter is resolved. 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 properly and people aren't informed, then for years, 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, yet 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. And with this example, presumably there has been some discipline for the false accusation in the first place.

This is TIP #8 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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