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Marsha411JD
Marsha411JD, Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 16972
Experience:  Licensed Attorney with 28 yrs. exp in Employment Law
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An employee for a supplier that we are doing business with

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An employee for a supplier that we are doing business with filed a complaint with his HR and my companies HR saying I threatened him with a knife. This never happened. The employee making the complaint just started working with us two weeks prior. I was on vacation when I got a call from my manager telling me about it and that he had to read me a statement from our legal department. I am still on vacation and need some advice before I return to work. To make matters worse my manager will be out of the country for the next three weeks.

In the statement I am encouraged to apologize and I am no longer allowed to even have a pocket knife on company property. Note that no one ever discussed anything with me. They also warned me that if there were any future complaints I would be fired.

According to my manager my company did an investigation and wasn't able to find any evidence to support the claim from the suppliers employee. They supposedly interviewed everyone that was present when the alleged incident took place and no one else supported the claim.

I personally believe that the claim is either personally or politically motivated. The suppliers employee making the claim is replacing an employee that they supposedly fired for poor performance. The project that we hired this supplier for has gone very poorly and as I am my companies technical expert, meaning I am the one exposing issues to my companies management, I can see how the supplier would see me as a real obstacle.

I also strongly suspect that the suppliers employee that made the false allegations may be very good friends with the previous employee that the supplier terminated and that this allegation is some attempt at revenge since they may blame me for the suppliers employee losing their job.

I asked my manager to allow me to stop working on this project so that I didn't have to be around the person that made the accusation and he said the project couldn't be done without my technical skills.

I then asked that we request the supplier to reassign their employee since he just started and he said my company would be afraid that such an action would be viewed as retaliation.

I then stated that forcing me to work with someone who has accused me of something so serious puts me in a hostile work environment.

I then asked my manager to cancel his trip out of the country because with something this serious I felt like I should be his priority. His response was that if he felt like there was something he could do by staying he would but he couldn't see that there was anything he could do.

There are way too many things about this whole incident that seriously bother me to even begin to list them all.

Maybe at the top of the list is why didn't HR talk to me before coming to a conclusion.

Secondly, since no one corroborated the accusation, and there were several people in the room, why did my company bother to contact me at all and read me a statement from our legal department.

I don't know if this has any bearing but I have been with my company for 13 years and every review I have ever had has been exceptionally positive. I am one of the few employees that they have sent through their technical leadership program. I have been told that I have been identified as a person with extremely high potential.

I really don't know what to do. Needless to say at a minimum this has ruined my vacation. I am having trouble sleeping and keeping food down.

Thanks for any help you can provide.
Submitted: 11 months ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  Marsha411JD replied 11 months ago.
Hello,

Thank you for the information, but I am not sure that I see exactly what your legal question is, can you clarify that for me? Also, are you in a union?
Customer: replied 11 months ago.
Is there something I should do to protect myself? How can I get this expunged from my record? Why am I being discriminated against by not being allowed to have a pocket knife since the allegation was not supported by anyone? No one else that works is under a similar constraint.

I am not part of a union. I have a masters degree in electrical engineering and I am a licensed professional engineer.

What is to prevent this person from making additional false claims in an attempt to get me fired and what can I do to guard against it?
Expert:  Marsha411JD replied 11 months ago.
Hello again and thank you for your reply. First, I would suggest that if this person has made a false statement of fact about you, and if you believe that it has damaged your reputation, that you sit down with a local trial/litigation attorney (essentially a personal injury attorney that handles non-physical injury torts) to discuss the possibility of filing a defamation of character action against them. Even if they don't think you have a strong enough case to file suit on, they can always write a "Cease and Desist" letter to the person making these statements telling them if they continue telling falsehoods that you will exercise your legal options. That usually will operate to stop them from doing this. Otherwise, you can sue them and that should do the job.

In terms of your employer though, that is no law that says they must allow you to carry a pocket knife in the workplace and honestly it would be better in this case that you don't so it is very clear that what the other party is saying is false. In addition, there is no unlawful discrimination, unless your employer is taking this action because of your gender, race, age (over 40), national origin, religion, or disability. So, even if the actions they are taking are unfair, they would not be illegal unless motivated by the reasons I just stated rather than trying to resolve a complaint.

Finally, an employee, absent a contract or company policy to the contrary, has no statutory right to participate in the investigation of a complaint against them. That is part of being an "at will" employee. In some states employees do have the right to at least see what is in their personnel record and write a rebuttal to go into the record, but that is not the case in Kentucky. So, unless your employer gives you a right to make a statement to be included in your record, it does not have to allow you to.

If, by chance, you were to sue this other person for defamation, and won that case, then at that time your attorney could send the findings of the court to your employer and request that they remove a notation of the complaint, but they wouldn't technically have to remove it. They couldn't share it with anyone outside the HR, but they wouldn't have to remove it.

Please let me know if you need any clarification. I would be glad to assist you further if I can.
Customer: replied 11 months ago.
Can my company selectively apply a "no pocketknife" policy solely to me without making it a company policy that applies equally to everyone? My issue isn't so much that I can't bring one to work but the I am the only employee with such a restriction. And really the pocketknife is just a symbol for me having to comply with a policy that is being applied only to me and not the rest of the population.

Furthermore, they are taking this action as the result of an allegation that they say they investigated and found had no merit.

What can HR share about me if I don't sue for defamation?

If I pursue legal action against the person making the allegations am I protected from my company firing me for doing so?

Would it be a fair generalization to say that in an at will state like Kentucky there really is very little legal defense against someone making false allegations that cause you to lose your job?

If I were to lose my job as a result of false allegations and I was able to prove defamation in court does that either make my company liable or at least give me a very strong case against them and if so what would I sue them for?

Thanks
Expert:  Marsha411JD replied 11 months ago.
Hello again--I will try to address your follow up questions below

Can my company selectively apply a "no pocketknife" policy solely to me without making it a company policy that applies equally to everyone? Yes, they can selectively say that because you are the one who was alleged to have pulled a knife. It is important to understand that,under the law, they must take a reasonable action based on an allegation that may or may not be true. Although it is true that no one but you and this other party know the truth, the employer cannot assume that you did not do this. So, they have to cover themselves legally. In addition, as long as you weren't being targeted for this decision, as I mentioned in my first response,because you are a member of a protected class, they can be as arbitrary as they want in telling an employee what they can or can't bring to work.

Furthermore, they are taking this action as the result of an allegation that they say they investigated and found had no merit. As I explained, that does not matter from a legal perspective.

What can HR share about me if I don't sue for defamation? If you were to leave and apply for a job somewhere else, then technically they can say anything that is truthful about your employment history. That said, most employers, in an effort to avoid defamation actions themselves, will only say that you were employed, your position, and when you left.

If I pursue legal action against the person making the allegations am I protected from my company firing me for doing so? No, not really. If you are an employee "at will" they can terminate you for any, or no, reason and with no notice or warning unless the termination would violate an employment contract, company policy, or employment discrimination law. However, I have never seen an employer terminate someone for filing a defamation action against another employee, especially if they work for a different employer.

Would it be a fair generalization to say that in an at will state like Kentucky there really is very little legal defense against someone making false allegations that cause you to lose your job? Yes, that is correct.

If I were to lose my job as a result of false allegations and I was able to prove defamation in court does that either make my company liable or at least give me a very strong case against them and if so what would I sue them for? No, your company would not be liable, since they did not make the statement and you are an employee "at will." Your company would only be liable if they make a false statement of fact to a prospective employer.
Marsha411JD, Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 16972
Experience: Licensed Attorney with 28 yrs. exp in Employment Law
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