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How To Handle False Accusations At Work

how to handle false accusations at work

It is your duty as a business owner to fairly investigate and respond appropriately to all allegations made in the workplace. If one employee complains about the behaviour of another employee, it is your legal obligation to deal with those accusations within the framework of your own company policies and wider legal guidelines. But what happens when you feel those allegations may be false?

If you think an employee is making false and malicious accusations against a fellow employee then you have just as much of a duty of care to the falsely accused employee. A false allegation must be investigated thoroughly too, and it is your job as a business owner to ensure the relevant investigation takes place.

Unfortunately false allegations at work are a slightly murky area in employment law and guidance around it can be confusing. After all, you don’t want to accuse an employee of making a false accusation if their complaint is valid. An employment tribunal could be the result if you do.

Below, let us guide you and your human resources department through the proper processes necessary to handling false allegations at work to protect all parties’ wellbeing and your business’ reputation.

What Are False Accusations?

False accusations are accusations made by one employee against another in the workplace that are just simply not true.

Now, the individual making the accusation may just have got the wrong end of the stick, and may make a complaint they believe to be genuinely valid. If this is the case, it’ll become obvious through the course of a proper and fair investigation.

Others may make deliberate malicious allegations against fellow employees in order to score professional points or to try to settle a personal vendetta. This also ought to become clear following an investigation.

company secretary

Examples Of False Accusations At Work

Most false accusations in the workplace can be split into five key categories:

Misconduct:Misconduct could be anything from workplace bullying to damaging property, negligence to physical violence.
Fraud:False accusations of fraud may relate to the mishandling of money, data, or another important asset to the business in a way that benefits an employee personally.
Theft:This usually relates to the theft of company property either for personal use or to be sold outside of the workplace without the knowledge of the business.
Sexual Harassment:Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the workplace is a serious issue. Unfortunately, false accusations are more common than you would hope.
Discrimination:Falsely accusing somebody of discrimination might relate to belittling, ignoring or otherwise treating an individual differently because of their age, sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or another personal characteristic.

As you can see from the table above; false accusations can be incredibly serious, and they have serious consequences for the employee that is falsely accused, too.

What To Do If You Suspect False Allegations Are Being Made

Even if you have reason to suspect your employee is making a false allegation you must still approach the allegation as if it were true in order to conduct the proper fair disciplinary process laid out in your company policies.

When a complaint or grievance has been officially raised, regardless of your personal suspicions, you must follow the proper process so that the truth can be sought in a professional and respectful manner that protects all parties involved.

Failure to do so could lead to employment tribunals, a loss of business respect or even worse consequences.

Below we’ll cover the necessary steps from initial complaint to concluding the case, to ensure a fair investigation is being carried out throughout.

Respond Appropriately To The Allegation

The first step in appropriately handling a potential fake allegation at work is to treat it as though it were true, because you just never know. If an allegation is serious enough that measures need to be put in place to separate the parties involved, then you will need to ensure this happens.

This might look like:

  • suspending one or both parties with pay until the claim can be fully investigated
  • asking one or both parties to work from home
  • moving shifts around so the two no longer work together
  • keeping the parties on the same shifts but separating them in different departments
  • asking both parties to have no contact with each other

 

Of course, what’s relevant to one situation won’t be appropriate to another, so seek legal advice if necessary, or else discuss your options with your HR Team or Manager to decide on the best course of action to protect everyone involved.

Keep Everyone Informed

If you are choosing to suspend one or both parties with pay, or else you’re considering one of the other options above that will directly affect the parties involved, then you’ll need to explain, in writing, the steps you are taking so everybody involved in the situation knows what’s happening and why.

It’s unfair to either party to leave them in the dark, so ensure you’re open and honest throughout, without handing over any confidential information to either party. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 may be relevant here if the complaint has come to you via a whistleblower. You might also include advice for seeking legal advice to the employee being accused if the accusations are serious enough that the police might have to be involved.

Collect As Much Evidence As Possible

After responding appropriately in the first place to protect the employees involved, it’s time to collect as much relevant evidence to the allegation as possible.

An investigation and meeting will definitely follow, but you might need this evidence later for a disciplinary meeting or even an employment tribunal later down the line, so collecting as much evidence as possible as quickly as possible is the key here.

Evidence here will usually include:

  • a recorded/written statement from the individual making the accusation
  • a recorded/written statement from the individual being accused
  • witness statements from any other employees who may have seen/heard information relevant to the accusation
  • collecting CCTV footage if appropriate

 

Remember any evidence you collect must be stored securely to protect the data involved. Relevant witnesses, the accuser, and the accused must all be protected throughout the entire investigation.

Conduct An Investigation

The investigation involves looking at all of the evidence in front of the individual leading the investigation to focus solely on what the evidence suggests.

That means whoever is conducting the investigation must be completely unbiased and have no prior knowledge of the allegations – that way, the evidence can lead them to the truth, rather than any prior conceptions they have about the parties involved or the situation.

The main focus of the investigation should be around:

  • What evidence is there to support the accusations?
  • What evidence is there to refute the accusations?
  • Are there other witnesses to the event that can support or refute the claims made?
  • Is there a prior history of issues between the parties involved that might affect the accusations being made now?
  • Would mediation be possible between the parties to support both employees without having to take the issue further?
  • What is their employment relationship like?
  • Is it possible that false accusations are being made with malicious intent? If so, why?
  • Are there any mitigating factors?

 

An independent investigator can be employed via a third party if your business is too small to fairly conduct an investigation of this nature.

Hold An Investigation Meeting

An investigation meeting is very different from a disciplinary hearing, which takes a much more formal approach, however, an investigation meeting is still vital for all business owners who are investigating an allegation made in the workplace.

An official investigation meeting should be held with each individual involved so that you can discuss the evidence so far and have them discuss things in greater depth, from their perspective. It’s always wise to carry out a meeting like this with a HR team member present taking minutes.

This can then be shown to the parties involved in the meeting and they can amend any statements they have made to better reflect their feelings on the matters discussed.

Making sure everybody is happy with their statements is crucial, as mistakes can be made and people can misspeak, but the evidence collected earlier and the investigation meeting minutes will form the basis of any decision made about disciplinary action for the accused (or the accuser if malicious allegations are found to have been made). Ensuring this information is accurate is key to making a decision that’s fair.

false accusation investigation meeting

Make A Decision

There is no reason to delay the decision making process after you’ve gathered all the relevant information from all parties and witnesses. This evidence should be the basis of any decision made and there should be no preconceptions going into the final decision meeting.

A final report is usually put together during the decision making process to show the evidence that supports and refutes the allegations made.

We’re focussing today on false accusations at work, so if there is evidence to suggest that the allegations that were first made were false, and this was done maliciously, then you will need to decide on what action will be taken next. We’ll cover this in greater depth below.

For now you simply need to decide if any disciplinary action is necessary, who it is necessary against, and ensure you have the evidence to support the final decision you have made.

Respond In Writing To All Parties

Your final decision must be made clear to all parties with a formal letter in writing detailing the decision made, the reason for those decisions, and if any disciplinary action will now be taking place as a result of the investigated complaint.

It’s important that all parties receive a written decision as this may form the cornerstone of any future employment tribunal claim they may make in the future if they face a future unfair dismissal (in their opinion).

The written decision also protects you if an unfair dismissal claim is made because if you can back up the decision you’ve made as a business owner who has thoroughly investigate the complaint, then you can prove the fairness of any disciplinary action taken based on the evidence before you and the statements of all parties and witnesses involved.

What Happens If False Accusations Are Proven?

You might find during the course of your fair investigation that the accusations made by the employee were, in fact, false, and may have even been malicious. When that happens, a fair disciplinary process may need to follow against the individual who made the false accusation in the workplace.

Whether this is necessary or not will depend on a few different steps that you’ll need to take to help determine an appropriate response.

Nature Of The Allegations

First its important to assess the seriousness of the allegation that was originally made and later proven to be false.

Of course, any false accusation is a serious example of misconduct in the workplace and you may feel that ALL false accusations at work are worthy of disciplinary action, but other business owners may consider the false allegation on a case-by-case basis, focussing on the seriousness of the allegation first made.

If, for example, the false accusation was surrounding sexual harassment, then it may be deemed more serious than if the accusation was surrounding the damaging of company equipment.

The Response Of The Accused

The employee on the receiving end of the false allegation could bring a complaint to your attention following the conclusion of the original investigation. The falsely accused may want to see some disciplinary sanctions for their accuser, which means you will need to conduct a whole new investigation into the false accusation to determine if sanctions are required.

It may also be that the falsely accused simply wants to move on from the whole situation, and they may instead stand against further disciplinary processes.

Consult with the accused in the first instance to see how they feel.

Your Disciplinary Policies

It’s also important that you consult your own business’ policies to determine what an appropriate response to a false accusation in the workplace is.

If you don’t have a policy in your company handbook specifically relating to your company’s disciplinary process should a false accusation of misconduct be made, then you might want to consider revising your handbook to make things clear to your employees about the consequences of false accusations in the workplace.

If you do have a policy, make sure you stick to the consequences outlined in it.

Final Decision

Most employers in the UK will bring disciplinary action against an employee for making false accusations because it sends a clear message that whilst all allegations will be taken seriously, so too will false allegations.

What the sanctions given to employees for falsely accusing others are will need to be determined by your business’ disciplinary policies and decided on a case-by-case basis.

Allowing false accusations to go unpunished in the workplace, however, can lead to a toxic environment, so ensuring you’re on top of this as a business owner is the key to ensuring your employees only bring accurate allegations to you in the future.

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