Monday, October 06, 2008

Throwing Stones to Hide Their Hands: Character Assassination In The Workplace

I saw a McCain adviser talking about his campaigns “new” tactic, which is to go after Barack Obama on character and to make people question whether they can trust him. And, it reminded me of how my former employer attempted to do the same to myself and a coworker, who had filed complaints.

The key word in the political world and in the workplace is “discredit.” It’s all about making someone appear to be a person whose words and actions can’t be trusted. In essence, it’s making someone into a liar and a person of low moral or ethical standards.

Just as the McCain campaign is using the tactic on Obama. Many of us have had an employer attempt to discredit us in some way. How? Well, one step in discrediting a person is to engage in character assassination.

Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that it’s amazing to watch an employer engage in character assassination, when you are aware of all of the dirty laundry they have. Sometimes an employer is aware that you know where the skeletons are buried and sometimes it’s an ace that you’re holding in your pocket. In either case, most employers don’t care what you know. What they hope is that you can’t prove it!!

My employer gave me a great performance evaluation in February '03. When they targeted me, they decided to paint me as having bad performance and a bad attitude. They created a mid-year review (we'd NEVER gotten mid-year reviews) and said things about me that were 180 degrees different than what they said about me in Februay of the same year.

They did this despite the fact that I had been receiving emails congratulating me on doing a good job on projects, that I had positive emails from clients, that I was being recommended to work on projects in other departments, etc.

You have to ask yourself, why does an employer take a chance on contradicting themselves like that and being exposed as a liar? Well, what happens if I don't have a copy of that performance review? What happens if I don't have any evidence that contradicts what was being said? How do I prove that the comments being made 7 months later aren't real?

Think about it. If I lost my copy of my evaluation, what do I do? I request another copy, right? I have to get that copy from my supervisor, who may be the person engaging in my discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation, or I contact HR for a copy. HR may be involved in assisting in a cover-up and in attempts to quiet a complaining employee.

Who's to say that I get a copy of the review that I received? I can tell you from experience that I was given one version of my final year-end review. I had 2 supervisors and HR tagged up against me in my evaluation meeting. I attacked all of the lies that I could get to during the meeting. When the meeting finished, I raced to my computer and quickly printed 10 copies of the electronic version of my final review and saved an electronic copy to disk.

The HR Rep raced upstairs to her computer and changed some of the false allegations made against me, by stripping them out of revising the wording. She printed up the new copy and that is what ended up in my file. She knew they were busted on some of those lies and didn't want the first final version hanging out there.

Lucky for me, my office was 2 doors down from where we met to discuss the review. That's how I beat the clock. Within about 15-20 minutes, that first final version was gone forever. Had I not printed it up and saved the file, I would NEVER have been able to concretely prove the intentionally false allegations being made against me.

Always keep in mind that from the employer standpoint, it may be a pretty good gamble to attempt to discredit an employee. So, they make accusations and it's up to you to prove they're lying.

They lie. And, they hope that you're not a pack rat, they hope that you're clueless about federal statutes and your workplace rights, they hope that they can discredit you, and then they gamble. The fact is that most employers are willing to go for broke.

An employer can know they have massive amounts of dirty laundry (e.g., tolerating and encouraging discrimination based on race/color, race-based harassment of employees, race-based retaliation for complaining employees of color, etc.), yet still decide that it’s an effective tactic to fraudulently accuse a complaining employee of having performance deficiencies.

So, while an employer can know that a manager was engaged in making race-based decisions and denied a promotion to a Black subordinate simply based on race, that employer may decide to trump up a case against that complaining employee by creating or exaggerating performance issues. If they can show a pattern (fake or not) of alleged bad behavior by the employee, employers think they can silence that employee or discredit the employee enough, so that nobody will believe the employer is guilty of violating federal statues.

So, an employer usually will decide to attack an employee on performance AND personality. The personality component is a huge piece in trying to ensure that an investigator, a lawyer, a judge, a jury, etc. will look at the complaining employee’s grievance as baseless/without merit.

When you know you’re guilty of something, you roll with what you got. And, we all know that blame the victim is a game that’s been played in workplaces and courtrooms around the country.

This is why I always recommend that no employee allow anyone to make fraudulent claims without making sure that they respond in order to clear their name. The response needs to be professional and based on facts. But, you can’t allow false allegations to just linger. People like to push perception as reality in the workplace. If you allow someone to write your biography, the perception they make for you can help stifle your career or could end your career.

I’ll have future posts on dealing with character assassination at work.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This happens often within my agency. What can be done? Are there trainings through EEO that can be introduced? How do you bring intervention and stop this kind of behavior? I'm a black professional female (Scientist with a Master's degree) and this happens often, but It's almost impossible to prove.

11:14 AM  
Blogger xxxxx said...

This is happening to me now. My supervisors are painting a picture of me as an animal. It is so demeaning. I want to quit my job. I put in an EEOC complaint so they are working together to make me look like a liar. I am a Police Lieutenant and I refused to be called cunts, Black bitches, and "Shaquita"! Something needs to be done about this! I have to sell my home because they spread these rumors in my neighborhood! I was hurt at work and I will go off the payroll because they claim I am lying so I can't be punished. All of my medical test prove I am hurt.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article! I hope you’ll write more about fighting back character assassination & false allegations of communication problems in future blogs. This will help many people who suffer such grievances in the workplace.

7:01 AM  

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