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How to protect yourself if you've been accused of workplace harassment

Have you been accused of bullying or harassing at work? If so, it's critical that you follow this procedure and cooperate with any internal and external investigations at your workplace.

This type of accusation is serious and even if you believe it isn't justified, you need to tread carefully and listen to the perspective of others. Instead of being defensive, be open-minded – and check out these essential tips for handling an accusation of harassment without making the situation worse.

Keep calm

If someone approaches you about your behaviour, just remain calm and listen to them. Sure, it's upsetting to be accused of harassment, but anger will only complicate this situation. 

Don't confront the accuser

Never ever confront the accuser about what they've said. It will only provide more fodder for their allegations, making the whole situation even worse. Anything you say to them might be misinterpreted and later used against you. Make sure not to discuss this case with your colleagues either – the gossip might spur even more allegations against you.

Write your side of the story

It's essential that you provide a written account of what happened from your perspective. It might be radically different from the version presented by the accuser, but you need to get your side of the story out there. This type of statement gives managers something they can refer to during the investigation.

Reach out to your supervisor

If you're completely sure that the accusations made against you are false, you absolutely need to speak to a senior level employee or a representative of the HR department. In many cases, accusations of bullying derive from simple misunderstandings, and the matter can often be resolved by means of mediation from a third party – for instance your supervisor. Chances are they'll know what to do in this situation and no further legal action will be needed.

Provide a witness or alibi

If the claims of harassment are completely false, you can battle them with a strong alibi or by providing a witness. If someone claims that you harassed them during a time when you were on a meeting or talking to someone at the office, make sure to point that out. Give the name of any witnesses who can confirm your alibi. Perhaps there were some people around at the time when the alleged harassment took place? If so, ask them to speak up on your behalf as well.

Don't even think about revenge

Retaliation for false accusation might sound tempting, but it's something you should avoid at all cost. Obviously, you must feel angry and frustrated – but just because you're going through a hard time doesn't mean that you should take any adverse reaction against the person who made the allegations. It will only make their claim seem more realistic.

Use your company record in your favor

During the investigation, make sure to provide your track record with the company. If you're being accused of something that you know you didn't do, a clean personnel file to prove no history of past harassment can be of great help. Talk to your supervisor and explain to them that you've been here for X years and have never had a problem with another employee, always treating others with respect and attention.

Consult with a lawyer

You should prepare yourself for anything, so book a consultation with a lawyer. Unfortunately, sometimes the problem cannot be solved with simple mediation at the workplace, so you need to protect yourself and your job as best as you can. A lawyer is your go-to person – they can advise you about your legal rights and help you in taking every step in managing the allegations presented against you.

Embrace change

Even if the harassment claims stem from a misunderstanding, chances are you'll need to adjust your behaviour and change your style of communication to avoid a similar situation in the future. It can be a few modifications to your actions to resolve the problem and ensure that it never returns. Stay open to all the constructive feedback you receive and be prepared to change your behaviour at the workplace. 

Be honest

Just be honest with yourself and with your accuser. If you did what you’re being accused of, admit it and you'll receive a decidedly milder punishment. Make sure you talk to your supervisor about what happened, admit that you were wrong to act in this manner and ask them for advice on how to avoid that type of situations in the future. Also, stop your 'harassing' behaviour as soon as possible. If you continue, you'll only make the situation worse – and it doesn't matter what you interpret as harassment or normal behaviour.

Given the recent increase of awareness that surrounds the topic of workplace harassment, more employees are today aware of their right to file a bullying complaint. Some might even do it as a form of revenge against their supervisor – others, because they feel like they might lose their jobs. All in all, false claims are a nasty thing to deal with, but if you're wrongly accused of bullying or any other form of harassment, be patient and stay calm – use the tips above to protect yourself and you'll be on your way to saving your professional reputation.

Author: Katie Lee

Harper Finch Criminal Lawyers

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Harper Finch Criminal Lawyers directly.

Published on 17th May 2016
(Last updated 23rd March 2018)

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