Toeing the line at work can keep you out of the hot seat sometimes, but even when you've done everything that a responsible employee can do, you might still be accused of wrongdoing. Regardless of whether they're true, accusations can always have consequences, even if they're not tangible, such as loss of income because of a suspension. Your reputation could be sullied or you could lose your job, both of which are severe in their own way. Use common-sense steps to ensure that you defend yourself whenever appropriate and that you take full responsibility for your actions when necessary.
Your Employee Handbook Serves a Purpose
There's always a possibility that someone you work with will accuse you of something -- whether it's using the company's computer for personal use or violating workplace rules concerning harassment. To avoid being accused of wrongdoing in the workplace, simply follow the company's policies and procedures and ensure that you always have the most recent version of workplace rules. Provided your employer regularly issues workplace guidelines, such as publishing them in an employee handbook that it distributes with each new revision, you should never be able to say, "I didn't know about that rule," if you ever become the accused.
Don't Get Emotional About It
It's easier said than done, but avoid getting emotional when a co-worker, peer or even a supervisor makes an accusation about you. When you know you haven't done anything wrong and you believe you've been falsely accused, you could become angry or agitated that someone would dare say that you acted inappropriately. Although some people equate an emotional response with lack of culpability, others might wonder why you're so emotional about an accusation if it isn't true. Regardless of how trivial or how serious the charge is, don't let your emotions dictate your response.
Could You Have Done Anything Differently?
Talk to the human resources department about the accusations. If you hear about it first, be proactive and discuss it with your supervisors or the HR manager. Depending on whether the accusation has to do with a work process, you might be able to resolve the issue at the departmental level by coming clean with your supervisor. In the event you're falsely accused, go to your supervisor with proof that will exonerate you. Do not confront the accuser, because then it becomes a personal matter between the two of you, and it's unlikely to result in a positive outcome, especially if you believe the accusation is false. Whether you talk to your supervisor, department manager or the HR manager, look introspectively to determine whether you could have prevented the actions or minimized any damage or inconvenience to your employer.
If the accusation is true, own it. But don't acquiesce just because you think it'll make the problem go away. Stand your ground if you believe the accusation is false. Depending on your company policy, the consequences could range from a performance warning to a suspension or, in egregious matters, termination. Before you accept the consequences, make sure you fully understand the implications of your actions and that you ask questions about the consequences, particularly if the consequences are severe. In some cases, you may be able to resolve the issue so you won't face severe consequences, such as termination.
Seek Counsel if Necessary
By all means, if the accusations lodged against you are patently false or if you believe there is misconduct or malice behind the accusations, seek legal counsel. You may need to engage a lawyer to defend your position, especially if the accusations involve legal matters. For example, if you're accused of sexual harassment, theft or workplace violence, then you have a right to be concerned about your reputation, your work record and, potentially, a criminal history that may be at issue. This is an extreme consideration, but nevertheless, a valid one.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.