Have You Been Accused of Bullying or Harassment at Work?

- Wednesday, March 09, 2016

We first ran this blog in 2014 and from the number of comments we received, it clearly raised issues that resonated with many of our readers.  So by popular demand here it is again.  We welcome your comments, as always.

Bullying and harassment legislation is in place to protect employees from being bullied by their co-workers. If you have been accused of bullying at work, it’s important to follow company procedure and co-operate with any internal or external investigations.

Although most bullying and harassment claims are legitimate, sometimes accusations can arise from misunderstandings, communication difficulties or can be brought against a manager, co-worker or subordinate out of malice or revenge for a perceived slight.

Accusations of bullying commonly occur where managers or supervisors have provided feedback to an under performing employee, or taken disciplinary measures against them. Management direction isn’t considered bullying, and as long as any actions taken were documented and reasonable, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

If you are managing employees and providing feedback on performance it’s important to document all your discussions, and ensure that any actions you take are in line with organisational policies. This can help protect you against false accusations of bullying, and make the investigation process easier and more straightforward if a situation is escalated.

If you have been accused of bullying at work, it’s important to follow company procedure and co-operate with any internal or external investigations. If you are accused of workplace bullying, even if you don’t believe it’s justified, it’s important to be open-minded and listen to the other person’s perspective. Here are a few suggestions to help you deal with an accusation of bullying or harassment without making the situation worse:

  • Remain calm if someone approaches you about your behaviour. Although it can be extremely upsetting to be accused of bullying, getting angry will only aggravate the situation.
  • If you believe that the accusations are false, speak to a senior level employee or your HR department. In many cases where bullying stems from a misunderstanding, the matter can be resolved with mediation from a third party
  • Be prepared to change your behaviour or style of communication. It may be that a few modifications to your actions or manner of communication is all that’s needed to resolve the situation. It’s important not to get defensive and to stay open to any constructive feedback you receive.

With the recent increased awareness of workplace bullying, more employees are becoming aware of the ability to lodge a bullying complaint, especially if they feel they are likely to lose their job, or as a form of revenge against a supervisor.

To reduce the likelihood of false claims, it’s a good idea for managers to provide training to employees to help them distinguish between normal management direction and actions, and bullying. Many bullying claims are a result of misunderstandings or miscommunication and these can easily be prevented with the right training, clear expectations, performance indicators, and documentation of feedback and disciplinary actions taken against individuals.

False claims can be extremely distressing to the person who is wrongly accused of bullying, and can even be a form of harassment in themselves if they are taken out for malicious purposes.
Anonymous commented on 03-Apr-2016 11:18 PM
"Oh come on. I previously made a complaint to the human rights department about my previous manager, who asked for sex in my performance review. He knows and I know its true. I don't really believe that there are that many people who would go through what I went through to make the complaint, which wasn't done for my cause but for the other female staff who confided in me that they were going through a similar situation with the so and do concerned. I got sent home, called a liar by HR so I resigned - had enough of the way I was treated through and through. My manager then slandered me in the industry and the company gave his name out as a referee, even though thee were other issues with this bully and harrasser, which led to his dismissal. I don't think its realistic to say all of these people are making it up, because it is the most horrible thing in the world to have to go through the process of making a complaint. I put my career on the line and suffered from unemployment for over a year as a result of doing the right thing. I would say most of the people writing on this site are guilty, living with their bad behavior and trying to make excuses for their behavior. If someone has accused you of this, take a good hard look at yourself. People don't come to work to be harassed, they come to work to do a job, nothing in between that. At least a year and a half later I got an apology from HR. But my career is ruined, all because of someone who let the power go to their head. I live in peace knowing that most if my colleagues are safer now, and some have said thank you. It is HRs job to find these issues before they get to reporting stage, and it is HRs job to sort out these issues pro actively. Its too late for everyone once a lawyer gets involved."
Anonymous commented on 10-Apr-2016 01:10 PM
"I have also been accused of bullying and I have never been so devastated in my life. After 40 years in the same profession in which I have never had a complaint lodged against me by a client, relative or coworker I was asked to attend a meeting with management and HR. A letter had been written by 2 staff who had accused me of intimidation. At that meeting I was told that other staff had also complained about me. I had no idea that this had occurred but was too devastated to ask what these complaints had been or why they hadn't been discussed before this. I was completely floored and after 15years with the same company I resigned. I soon gained employment again but 18months later I no longer trust anyone and just want to get to retirement age to escape this misery. Were it not for a very supportive family I believe I would have had a breakdown. Has political correctness really got to the point where staff who are under performing or have a personal dislike for someone can use HR departments to humiliate someone and make them now regret having even entered a profession that they once held in high esteem but now can't wait to escape. It is very difficult to talk to anyone about this because you feel that "mud sticks" and once the accusation is made formally like this you feel forever stained. "
Anonymous commented on 23-Apr-2016 07:51 PM
"I tried to put my staff on performance management after a year of softly managing. He's accusing me of bullying, 20+ page grievance, reinterpreting everything I've ever said or done through a bullying lens. Has successfully detracted focus away from his deficiencies, instead portraying me as a office psycho with a sole purpose to rid of me. I sympathize every comments here, I'm feeling them too... distress, unable to concentrate, weight loss, not interested socializing, helpless, no support. I'd say to you all its fight, not flight. Hang in there truth will come out eventually."
Anonymous commented on 08-May-2016 05:10 PM
"To the author of the recent post: I think alluding that individuals commenting on this site are guilty is inappropriate, unfair, unjust and deliberately contrary.
Just saying......

Now, to individuals who have even a cursory knowledge of the workplace psychopath, the misuse of bullying allegations is not a surprise. Unfortunately HR people, managers, colleagues - all of us, are inexperienced when it comes to dealing with the workplace psychopath. Such people are adept at sucking-up and pretending to the 'right' people, hiding their true selves. They will attack those they see as a threat. Threat being anyone who has something they desire (position, projects) or anyone who sees through their masquerade.

I have seen the bullying protection laws used appropriately more than once. I have seen the misuse of the bullying protection laws more than once. It is the latter that is concerning. Unfortunately individuals charged with the initial investigation of the allegation do not have the necessary experience, skills or expertise to conduct the research. And there is too much weight placed on the 'perception' of the alleged victim. Saying something happened doesn't make it true. That is why investigation of allegations must take into account natural justice (innocent until proven guilty, evidenciery process ) and objective considerations- the reasonableness test. Would a normal reasonable person, bearing in mind all the surrounding facts and circumstances, consider the allegation to be bullying (according to the definition)?

Individuals incorrectly identify workplace conflict as bullying is another problem. Conflict is not bullying. Adults have to be able to resolve conflict. Differences of opinion from matters operational to policy and administrative etc WILL occur. Appropriately experienced and/or trained adults will be able to manage workplace conflict. Such adults will understand the necessity of conflict. Such adults know the difference between conflict and bullying, conflict and abuse, conflict and discrimination.
Misuse of bullying/anti bullying protections/laws/procedures can be a form of bullying in its own right not to mention a waste of resources.
But how does a false allegation gain traction? Inexperienced managers ignoring principals of natural justice and procedural fairness.
If you have been falsely accused, be strong.
Review the situation. Have YOU been afforded natural justice? You are entitled to the presumption of innocence. You are entitled to full organisational support. You are entitled to be informed of the process/ investigation. You are entitled to know all the details (who, when, where, what, how), including how the person felt bullied. Simply saying 'I felt bullied', or 'i felt intimidated' is inadequate. The alleged victim must be bale to explain how. You are entitled to respond to the allegations. You are entitles to seek advice and support.
That's just a little bit of what you need to review.
I know it doesn't make the horrid nature of the false accusation easier, but defending yourself (which you have to do and are entitled to do) can give you a channel for all that frustration and anger. Don't forget to find your rock and confide in them too. And bring them along (even by telephone if they can't make it) to meetings as a witness and support.
Anonymous commented on 10-May-2016 03:44 PM
"I have recently been accuse of bullying. Staff stated that I told her to speak English and I question her appearance and cultural. I never even communicate with individual unless it job related, now I am accuse of being a bully. I am really taking this at heart and hope to resolve this. "
Anonymous commented on 04-Jun-2016 05:37 PM
"Yesterday I was brought into the office by HR and my manager and told that I was being suspended with pay while they investigated me for bullying. I was shocked and stunned and reading through the rest of the comments, I feel reassured that I am not the only one who has been falsely accused. That I am not the only one who says 'I don't understand'. I haven't been told any information and I got told by my manager to 'have a good weekend and take care'. Thank you for this site, I don't feel so alone anymore."
Anonymous commented on 09-Jun-2016 04:49 AM
"Wow, I just had this happen to me today as well, I'm shocked and stunned. I wasn't told any details only that it was a serious offence and that the company could fire me for just cause without notice or obligation. I have no idea what on earth they are talking about! What are my rights? Don't I have any? Where's the investigation/discussion? I feel sick."
Anonymous commented on 29-Jun-2016 01:10 AM
"I was recently accused of being a bully and rude. I was completely shocked. I am not a manager but a supervisor. I work in the hospitality business making reservations for guests. I have only tried to help in assisting with the employee on the correct procedures. I have always been a loyal employee and have tried to give the best device to our guests."
Anonymous commented on 29-Jun-2016 02:35 PM
"just been accused of bullying in workplace investigation underway I am being fully co-operative Do not know any details at the moment but I have found all the above comments very useful and help me through a very dark day as no support from anywhere else"
Anonymous commented on 05-Jul-2016 12:22 AM
"I too have just been falsely accused of bullying and racism as a lovely cherry on top. I have been of sick from work for the past three months and these serious allegations have just been placed...nice and convenient!
I have not been informed of who my accuser is and have been informed that I may need to be suspended for my protection. Unfortunately this is not the first time I have been falsly accused the previous time there was no case and the accusations were illegitimate. I find that once you have been accused it makes it easier for someone else to accuse you again...so don't trust anyone. It makes you incredibly wary of how to manage your staff and potentially not fulfilling your managerial responsibilities for fear of being accused again. Our current culture makes it extremely easy to fling these sorts if accusations around. What I want to know is are there any ramifications for the member of staff that entered these false, vicious and malicious accusations!"
Anonymous commented on 08-Jul-2016 01:28 AM
"I am a Manager and have just been falsely accused of bullying. The team member intentionally made out of context comments during a phone conversation in front of an audience. This took place after a recent period of Her underperformance which was reported to Her line Manager. Recently our company has widely publicised anti bullying and reporting processes. This is a laudible intention as real bullying is horrific. Unfortunately for all of us it also opens the floodgates for the dishonest employees. In fact I now feel bullied by these events. Despite more then 2 decades of having no issues it puts me in the spotlight and forces me to adapt and give special treatment when dealing with this employee in the future which is not an effective way of working. It is particularly disturbing as the employee in question is very controlling and abrupt when dealing with others."
Anonymous commented on 16-Jul-2016 12:15 PM
"Thanks for the comments. I have been accused of bullying (am new to role in organization) by the individual that I am trying to get to do her job. All the posts have helped me. Waking up worried in the middle of the night and feeling paralyzed is horrible.
Anonymous commented on 24-Jul-2016 01:33 AM
"Wow. I'm in the other boat – working for covert bully bosses but after finally making a complaint HR is discrediting me and saying I'm lying... without giving me any benefit of the doubt or asking for any proof (there is plenty!). I guess the psychopath/bully wins and the innocent party is f*cked regardless of which is the victim/accuser.

Even if wrongfully accused of bullying, you should still have protections. Note unfair and unlawful dismissals must be lodged within 21 days (but judge can consider extenuating circumstances to allow after this). If you haven't been afforded natural justice, seek legal advice. Start with free resources such as JobWatch, FairWork etc."
Anonymous commented on 13-Aug-2016 09:36 AM
"I have recently been accused of bullying and targeting another team member. I am very upset and confused, cant sleep and my mind goes over and over every detail to no avail. I feel I am the victim as she has constantly complained about others and anyone that pointed out her errors /mistakes even when she was the one that asked for help. I now feel my job is on the line because the company just wants it to go away, even though for the last 6mths I have been the one taking on the extra workload and clearing up her mistakes. So Unfair - when I was asked about our team in general and told to be honest - I was and went to my management as per our policies. I am now told I am the troublemaker and targeting her - when its obvious its the other way around.
I was so shocked that I didn't defend myself as well as I should have and now have a letter of warning and very afraid to go back to work in case I lose my job."
Anonymous commented on 14-Aug-2016 05:14 AM
"I just got termination from My employer because a coworker accuse me of bullying.whitout an investigation My employer gave me 2 choices a week suspension whit no pay or termination of employment. I choose to fight for My rights but I probably need to take the week of & swallow my principles because every dep I have turnd to seems to keep miss leading me whit no interest on help for a false accusation that lead to a wrong termination"
Anonymous commented on 15-Aug-2016 09:57 PM
"This article makes me sad and not very optimistic about my own staff member writing an email to HR about me.since this person first started working I knew something wasn't right but I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt and kept her on after her 3 months review. She acts like a self entitled baby who can't take constructive feedback, refuses to do everything asked that's outside of her normal job, has disagreements about leave entitlements and calls in sick nearly every Friday. I am sick with worry about what she may have said and have been sick dealing with her shenanigans over the last 2 months. I feel as though I should put in a bully claim about her."
Anonymous commented on 25-Aug-2016 08:35 PM
"I resigned two weeks ago and have been accused of bullying a co worker which I vehemently deny. I'm now off sick with the stress and suspicious of the timing and motivation. I plan to contact my new employer as I am an honest person."
Anonymous commented on 26-Aug-2016 05:57 PM
"I have been malevolently and falsely accused of bullying and harassment by a past member of my team who was offered redundancy by my supervising manager due to restructuring. She was always an under performer who didn't have the right skills set and attitudes to do the job from the outset and to continue in the role any longer. She has now taken legal action against the company claiming a large sum of money with an misconstrued unfair dismissal case taking things into her own hand whilst accusing me for bullying. All communications I had with her during work were in writing and clearly instructed her to perform as per the agreed quality standards. All other colleges of my team and in other departments are ever ready to stand up to give evidence for me and tell the court that what a painful liar and a drama queen she is. It is a clear case of someone who is so opportune, sick and also a blatant liar with a venomous desire for revenge, trying to grab money from the company. In fact I should be called a saint to deal with her over the past so many years with so much pain affecting my life day-in-day-out where my management showed a total blind eye to the damage she was causing to the company and other stake holders around until things were getting to a worst point. Not sure how far her case will go before courts will throw that away hopefully, if not, I'm not sure how much confidence one can keep in the Australian legal system unfortunately."
Anonymous commented on 16-Sep-2016 08:59 PM
"I have worked as a team leader/ senior for many years now. I have been accused of bulling and picking on a member of staff who has only started in this sector under a year. I deligated the jobs to them and documented showing my action. I asked this person to do something which she had been alligatted she undertook this activety for less then five mins I said would she carry on for a bit longer because it wasn't really long enough. She did carry on never said a word to me but body language said it all . The next day I was on day off and she went to my manager and accused me of bulling and picking on her so much she was going to hand her notice in. The next day I was asked to go see my manager where I was informed of the alligations which have been made. I was total shocked and has upset me greatly that in all the years of doing the job I never be accused of anything. I feel I can't carry out my role as a team leader / senior to the best of my ability for fear of be accused further and because it's very clicky with staff who feed of each other that others may do same . I have expressed my feelings and told my manager that I don't feel I can work there under these nasty situation because I feel she has destroyed my self esteem confidence and my dependant ion of character was come under fire. I feel in fact that it's the other way round. My manager told me she put me on opposite shifts but now told me the owner of business says we have got to work together. Another staff memeber who is on same level as the persons who accused will be monitoring I feel wrongly accused and my name blacken and unsupportive. Documenting seems a waist of time because I followers procures and still made to feel like this it's there anything I cud do .... Put up with it and do as the owner and manager want or look for another job . "
Anonymous commented on 26-Oct-2016 04:40 PM
"I have been accused of bullying "multiple" people in my department (there are only 4 in the department). I was never told who, what happened or when. And one of the possible "victims" was sitting in the meeting. Don't I have a right to know what I"m being accused of?"
Anonymous commented on 27-Nov-2016 04:21 AM
"ive recently been accused of bullying & am currently under investigation, although im furious ive remained calm & stuck to procedure, ive never had a conversation with the person accusing me, although the person in question is an agency worker its recently come to light that while an employee is under investigation they cant be finished guaranteeing the accuser a wage as other agency staff have been laid off. its really hard work & frustrating to say the least to be polite & keep quiet but hopefully justice will prevail, I will keep anybody interested upto date, its good to have a release."
Anonymous commented on 18-Mar-2017 02:13 PM
"I am having an issue! About 3 1/2 years ago a new employee started in our company. We got on a first and then I started hearing the rumours about her telling people to watch their backs with me!
Being in management, if I questioned her about her performance, I was accused of bullying...She even made up a story whereby I went us to her and started yelling and screaming at her calling her a 'fu$king C$nt'! There were people around when I supposedly did it...I didn't even talk to her, I had just been in the area she was.. to the point where she told someone who was close by that when they get asked what happened to say they didn't see anything...he even told HR that she had done it and nothing. No one could say I did it...because I didn't...so I was 'vindicated' by HR ...if I had been yelling and screaming at her ... no one said they heard me yelling actually, no one actually recalled me even talking to her...it just came down to them not having evidence to prove her right but didn't worry about the fact that she had tried to interfere with so-called witnesses and her claim of me yelling when people around would have heard that...and people actually said, they had never heard me even swear...Iit was my reputation she was going for ...even tho it was just a false accusation to begin with! She also walked passed me and shoulder barged me....she turned violent AND again, because there was no witness, HR wouldn't do anything! Things settled, we talked and I thought we had moved passed it, all be it, I made sure we were never alone together...she is thanking me one second for for being a great boss and supporting her one second and telling people how much she hates me and to watch their back the next....My store Manager says he can't do anything without me having a witness to her behaviour....people are not wanting to get involved because they are scared of how she will react to them.
Now she has started again....the accusations of bullying, she even made reference to the 'shoulder barge incident' only now, it is me who did it to her. (most people around at the time are gone)... and all I keep coming back to is her turning to violence and me, well I am actually a bit scared of going to work and dealing with it...Why is there no protection against this sort of false accusations and people like this?"
Anonymous commented on 11-Apr-2017 01:33 AM
"I'm so relieved to find this site! I just recently was accused of harassment bullying. I was accused by an employee that is underperforming. The investigation is still under way. It has been 2 wks and HR has still not questioned me. The accuser was not filling out crucial paperwork. We had a training session with the entire department so he wasn't singled out. One week after the training he wasn't filling out the paperwork again. Another employee brought it to my attention so I brought it to my bosses attention. The accuser was wrote up, 3 days later another employee wasn't filling out paperwork. That employee was wrote up too. This is the most stressful thing I have had to deal with. I feel like this is an amazing support group. I can't find anything on what to do if falsely accused."
Anonymous commented on 10-Sep-2017 01:32 PM
"I also have been falsely accused of bullying. I considered the person in question as a friend. If she was unhappy with the way I had spoken to her why did she not say so? Instead she turned a situation around and blamed me for what she actually did. Where is the justice in that? I have always stuck up for her when people have said how ditzy she was and asked how in the hell can I work with her. No more, I will never protect her again"
Anonymous commented on 20-Sep-2017 01:04 PM
"I was accused of harassment and bullying by a co-worker. It hurt me so bad because I thought we were friends, and she made it clear that she's all about her and her family. She never gave a flying fudge about me. My boss threw out the disciplinary report and I know to be more careful around that back stabber. I just wish I can leave this hurt... I felt like a kid again when someone who I thought was my friend just went and told the teacher on me... My momma didn't raise no fool, so I will keep my wits about me and keep that psychopath from hurting me again. "
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