6 Stories of False Accusations & The Aftermath
One of our clients (Mrs.D) had been employed by an organization for approximately 27 years. She has been a dedicated employee, received promotions and pay increases and has never been the subject of any prior discipline.
The year of termination Mrs.D experienced significant personal tragedies. Her spouse had three strokes, each two weeks apart. Her brother was killed. These events were extremely traumatic for Mrs.D and her supervisors were aware of them.
The same year HR department allegedly received seven anonymous letters from other employees accusing Mrs.D of “bullying behavior and creating a hostile work environment”. As a result, HR department allegedly conducted and “independent” investigation. As a result of investigation, they recommended to terminate Mrs.D.
When faced with potential termination and the possibility of losing a pension, Mrs.D resigned.
When we looked at the “Independent” investigation report, that became a basis for Mrs.D’s termination recommendation, we’ve discovered several issues:
1. Mrs.D was wrongfully accused of workplace harassment and retaliation
The law gives the following examples of retaliatory conduct:
· Adverse action such as termination of employment, demotion, disadvantageous transfers or assignments; threats, reprimands or negative evaluations.
· Coworker hostility or retaliatory harassment including gossip, intimidation, rumors, insults or other offensive conduct, public ridicule or humiliation.
“Investigation” relied on anonymous letters that fell into perceptions and feelings category, and did not constitute either tangible “adverse actions” or “hostility or retaliatory harassment”.
For example, one anonymous stated that Mrs.D would walk by and either put a head down and/or ignore her when she would say hello, which made her feel “very uncomfortable” and “disrespected”. Another anonymous stated that when she asked Mrs.D a question, Mrs.D would give her one word responses or did not look at her making her feel uncomfortable.
2. Proposed discipline was overly severe and punitive
Only once before our client was advised about her demeanor towards other employees, but was never disciplined. Therefore the first act of misconduct and termination in this first instance was overly severe and punitive.
Aftermath: Two days after the investigation began; Mrs.D’s physician placed her on medication for anxiety and depression, and thereafter increased the dosage. Mrs.D was forced to resign when faced with termination which could cause losing a pension. Mrs.D’s age would not allow her to find another job after having spent over 27 years working for her former employer.
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Michael Harbron is the Editor in Chief of Scrubs Magazine.
By Michael Harbron