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Tina
Tina, Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
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Experience:  JD, BBA, recognized by ABA for excellence.
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When an employee is accused of telling a lie about her boss

Customer Question

When an employee is accused of telling a lie about her boss by another employee, what is the duty of the employer to investigate before blaming the alleged lying employee and asking the alleged lying employee to retract the lie?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  Tina replied 1 year ago.

Hello and welcome.

My name is XXXXX XXXXX my goal is to provide you with excellent service today. I am sorry to hear of your difficult situation. Before I can give you an accurate answer to your question, please provide the following additional information:

You were accused of making a false statement about your boss that you did not make? Do you know what the motive of the other employee is in making the false statement about you? Does the employer have an established policy that they are required to follow with regard to this type of situation?

I look forward to assisting you as soon as I have received this information. Thank you.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I believe the motive of the other employee was to discredit me to protect herself. I am a manager with 14 months experience with this company and a stellar reputation with no complaints or counseling from ER - only excellent comments on my work that rebuilt a program that was failing in many areas when I took the job.

There is a new employee who came into my office (she doesn't work for me) and began disclosing private personnel info on two other employees. I had no reason to have this info and was concerned that it had been brought to me. I reported it to my boss the next day. She asked me to go to this new employee and tell her I didn't want to hear this kind of info, why, and that I had reported it to my boss. I did all this.

The employee's response was that she said and did what I reported, but said it was because I was in management and she trusted me. She said she knew she shouldn't have gossiped (told me in person and in an email). Then, she went to the boss and said that I have told her things I shouldn't said. I never knew what this was until I was confronted in a meeting with three other staff members present and had supposedly told her that the boss was stealing money from the budget. I have never said or thought this, nor have I heard this anywhere.

My boss confronted me and my two employees about this. We all said we had never said or heard this or thought this and hadn't spread this rumor. I was not involved in any investigation - her confrontation was blaming and saying we should have reported to the compliance hotline if we thought this, etc. etc. Also there was no notice that we were going to talk about this - just a meeting set to talk about our database and she brought this up.

I thought this was the end of it and two days later, she brought me into her office for a "free form discussion" meeting - I thought we would be planning work projects and she handed me a list of problems I had as a manager and wanted started discussing them.

I told her these are all issues that I have never heard about prior and the only performance feedback I had ever received from her and my clients in-person conversations and emails extolling my leadership and the excellent job I am doing with my department/program.

She then went on talk about the alleged lie I told and how this is destructive gossip, etc. She asked me if I would meet with her and the acusser. I responded yes, and asked her to bring the accuser in now or set a meeting. She didn't and hasn't. She finally said, "You know, if you just admit that you said this, you know we can go on as if nothing has happened, don't you?" And I responded, "Yes, but I didn't say it, I've never thought it, and I've never heard it prior to being informed of it in an earlier meeting where she confronted me and my staff.

There is no policy on this that I am aware of but my understanding of good HR practices (how I would handle it with my staff) is to first let the employee (me) know the allegation; second, to conduct an unbiased investigation; third, to present the findings and if there were performance or counseling needed for the offending employee (me) to be specific about the finding adn the follow up. No rush to judgement or blame without some kind of due process.

By the way, HR was never involved in this and I believe they should have been. We have offsite HR that comes onsite one day per week. This has all happened in the last 10 days and I have hesitated to involve HR. I did however report this to my boss' boss and we had a conversation.

More info if needed.
Expert:  Tina replied 1 year ago.
I see. Thank you for providing this additional information, Jean.

The law does typically permit employers to implement their own procedures with regard to investigations and whether they must follow a specific procedure when allegations arise in the workplace. I certainly agree that good practices would require that the employer investigate without rushing to judgment, but the law does not impose that on employers.

Instead, the employment at will doctrine permits employers to terminate employees without good cause or even false reasons, although the employee could still receive unemployment benefits in those circumstances normally.

Because the law does not impose an obligation on employers to investigate before accusing an employee of wrongdoing, it is often best to approach the employee who made the false statements about you. You may wish to do this through an attorney since the attorney can lay out the potential legal consequences for the employee if you lose your job because of her actions, such as damages for lost wages and benefits being assessed against her for defamation or intentional interference with business relations. Usually such a warning does motivate individuals to cease such conduct. The attorney could also demand an apologize for the employee to avoid legal action against her.

Or, if you do not wish to retain an attorney for this limited purpose, then I would contact HR to aid in investigating the situation since you do have evidence the employee's statements are false. If the HR department does investigate, that will likely resolve the matter as well. However, if the employee who made the false statements is not warned of possible legal action, then she may engage in such conduct again in the future, so I would seriously consider retaining an attorney to communicate a warning to her.

I hope this helps clarify the situation for you. Please remember to rate my service once you have all the information you need so I will be compensated for my time from the deposit you posted with this website. If you have any other questions, please ask me – I’ll be happy to respond. Thank you!

Tina

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Is there some liability on the part of the employer for this new employee's actions? Especially since it appears to have been done in retaliation for me reporting her behavior to my boss?

Do you know of an attorney in the Seattle area to whom I could turn to address this issue further - perhaps as you noted in your last response?
Expert:  Tina replied 1 year ago.
Hello again, Jean.

Most forms are retaliation are not actionable. If you had reported the employee's unlawful behavior in the scope of her employment, then there could be some liability on the part of the employer for any retaliation you experience after reporting that unlawful conduct. Similarly, if the employee were engaging in discrimination based on your age, gender, race, or other protected status, employer liability could attach.

However, this does not appear to be the case here, so the employer would not typically be liable for the employee's false statements about you.

I don't have a Seattle attorney I can refer you to, but the state and local bar associations can provide attorney referrals. Here is a link to the state bar association's site which provides attorney referral services:

http://www.wsba.org/resources-and-services/find-legal-help

I wish you all the best with this situation and please let me know if you need anything further from me.
Expert:  Tina replied 1 year ago.
Hello again Jean,
I wanted to thank you for using JustAnswer, and to inquire whether my answer was helpful in clarifying your understanding of the law even though it may not have resulted in the outcome you were hoping it would.
Is there anything else I can assist you with?
If you do not require further legal information at this time, please feel free to bookmark my profile so you can request me when you do have another question. Here is a link to my profile: http://www.justanswer.com/law/expert-tina/
Thank you very much and all the best to you.
Tina

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