Friday, June 25, 2010

Keep Your Resignation Letter Drama Free!

Mary J. Blige sang it best, when she blurted out…No More Drama! So, try not to be highly emotional, when you’re writing your resignation letter! This is especially true for those of us that are forced to resign because of race-based misconduct at work.

Yes, you may be justified in being upset or angry, etc. However, those legitimate emotions can be twisted by your employer and can be used against you in the future. Remember, your official resignation is in writing. Therefore, it can come back to haunt you. So, choose your words carefully. Here are some tips:

--don’t forget to include the effective date of your resignation;

--give 2 weeks notice—unless there are extenuating circumstances;

--write professionally--stick with the facts;

--spell-check and grammar check your resignation letter;

--don’t use profanity;

--don’t make threats of physical violence;

--don’t make threats of legal action—let your employer be surprised;

--don’t attach any old or new evidence that will be used in your complaint;

--don’t make any new accusations—at this point, save all issues for your complaint;

-- explain why you are ending your employment. If you are resigning for cause, briefly state the cause (harassment, falsely accused of performance deficiencies or insubordination, retaliation, etc.);

--don’t write about what your employer should have done—although you can briefly state that your employer failed to prevent or correct misconduct, etc;

--don’t write a 100 page resignation letter—keep it as short as possible;

--CC: HR and the Director of your department/unit (assuming your resignation is sent to your immediate supervisor); and

--inquire about the date for your exit interview (and plan to be truthful at the meeting with HR).

Remember: If you are resigning due to race-based misconduct, don’t let fear cause you to write a resignation letter that sounds like a glowing thank you letter (e.g., I appreciate the opportunities provided to me by the company.) If you were forced to resign, you should not portray yourself as a happy camper on the way out the door. Your employer will gladly show your smiley face resignation letter to any investigator or jury and will state that it is proof that you weren’t subjected to an offensive or hostile work environment.

So, don’t play yourself worrying about burning bridges as you exit the company. If you were dealing with race-based issues, they won’t be hiring you back anyway! Focus on preserving the integrity of your complaint.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Actual vs. Constructive Termination

Sometimes we say that we know someone that’s been “run out of their job.”

But, the legal terminology we should use is that the person was a possible victim of “constructive termination.” So, I want to take a quick look at the two types of termination, actual and constructive.

Actual Termination

When you are actually fired by your employer, you are notified in writing or verbally that they don’t want to see your Black a** no more! Yes, let me be real on that.

Constructive Termination

Constructive termination is when an employee resigns because their company or one or more of their representatives, such as a supervisor, director, etc., is intentionally creating a situation where the employee’s work environment is so hostile and intolerable that there is no way the person can stand to show up on the job anymore. And, the employer would have known that the person would have been compelled to resign based on what was going on at work. In those cases, it can be argued that the worker was a victim of constructive termination. In other words, they were forced to resign because it was the only reasonable choice, considering the circumstances.

To give you an example of constructive termination, I’ll describe what happened to a friend of mine, a manager. She was stripped of her staff, she was asked to clean the company’s three kitchens, she was forced to shred paper for days at a time and to break apart meeting folders, she was asked to wear a head scarf to serve clients food, she was given extremely menial tasks, and she was being demoted—at the time she resigned. She is now seeking legal remedy based on constructive termination among other violations of her rights. So, use the proper terminology. If you were run out of your job, say that you were the victim of constructive termination and prove your case!

FYI: Isolated acts of hostility or misconduct wouldn’t justify the accusation against an employer that there was constructive termination, but a continuous pattern of intolerable behavior would certainly support an employee’s claim that they were forced to leave their job.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Management Should Undertake Whatever Measures to Ensure No Retaliation

According to the EEOC, an employer should make clear that it will not tolerate adverse treatment of employees because they report harassment or provide information related to such complaints. An anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure will not be effective without such an assurance.

Management should undertake whatever measures are necessary to ensure that retaliation does not occur. For example, when management investigates a complaint of harassment, the official who interviews the parties and witnesses should remind these individuals about the prohibition against retaliation.

Management also should scrutinize employment decisions affecting the complainant and witnesses during and after the investigation to ensure that such decisions are not based on retaliatory motives.

So, if you have reported harassment or some other form of illegal misconduct, the onus is on your employer to ensure that you are not subjected to retaliation because you’ve spoken up about mistreatment. This means that management should warn those you are making complaints about, as well as other staff being interviewed as material witnesses, that you are not to be targeted in any way shape or form for making a complaint. Your employer’s anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies should be sent in reminder emails to ALL STAFF—periodically—but, particularly after an incident of potential harassment has been reported.

Your employer should not name you or call you out in any communication being sent to all staff. Employees that are serving as witnesses should be warned not to repeat anything that is discussed during an investigation of harassment. Steps should be taken to shut down the rumor mill—before it gets started!

If an employee has made a complaint of harassment and someone with authority to recommend employment actions makes a sudden recommendation to suspend or to demote or to fire, etc. that employee, the employer should automatically question the employment recommendation to determine if the motivation is legitimate or simply a pretext to fire the employee for making a complaint. Employers should not simply take the word of a supervisor, etc., when they are aware that the supervisor is recommending action that could be intentionally retaliatory, may be meant to scare the employee out of opposing illegal mistreatment, and may be meant to intimidate other employees in order to prevent them from opposing illegal mistreatment or from participating in an investigation against the company.

Employers can’t claim deniability by blaming a supervisor for taking action against an employee as though the supervisor were a rogue employee of the company. Supervisors rely on the authority given to them by management and can’t execute a vendetta or any adverse actions without cooperation or intentional ignorance from higher up within the company. The law will not diminish the responsibility of employers to examine all employment actions, particularly against employees that have opposed mistreatment.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Document All Meetings Related to Your Grievance!

If you are under attack on your job (read: being subjected to racially-based/illegal mistreatment), you should keep track of every meeting you participate in regarding any alleged negative behavior on your part. This includes logging/recording all meetings you attend with the person who is making accusations against you or leading a chorus of coworkers to make false charges against you.

It’s important to remember that once you’ve been identified as a “troublemaker,” by making noise about racially-based mistreatment, your company’s solution may include getting rid of you as opposed to firing the perpetrator who is causing you a hostile work environment and who is potentially breaking the law.

This is an especially likely reality if the person who is harassing you is of a higher status than you are at your company. The company may tend to shield a higher-up as opposed to supporting a “peon” who is being mistreated. They’ll privately call it a “business decision.” But, that is reality. A higher-up has a much more vital role for the company and they will likely not be willing to part with this person, even regarding a racial matter that might explode in their faces.

So, if you have to attend a meeting regarding a racially-based or other sensitive issue, you have to look out for your interests and you have to maintain an accurate record of what is happening to you on the job. When you participate in any meetings regarding mistreatment, record everything. Take copious notes. Ask many questions and get answers. If answers can’t be provided to you, ask for follow-up to get the information from the other participants. If you receive no feedback regarding your questions, note your employer’s refusal to provide you with answers in your log.

Be sure to find out if there are any expectations for after the meeting. Are you expected to do something or speak to some other authority at work to get the situation resolved?

What’s next?

What’s been resolved?

What penalty, if any, did your harasser receive?

You have a right to know and you have a right to ask. Be sure you know the status of most, if not all issues, by the end of each meeting.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Label and Describe the Importance of Your Evidence

If you’ve reached the point where you feel it’s necessary to file a complaint or grievance regarding racially based discrimination, harassment, retaliation or bullying at your workplace, it’s important that you compile your evidence in a logical fashion that makes it easy for a 3rd party to understand your complaint. As you compile your evidence, please remember that you should never make assumptions about what someone will and won’t understand. Don’t assume that an investigator or an attorney will be able to look at an email or memo and quickly be able to ascertain why this information is relevant and critical to your case.

REMEMBER: When you initially speak to an investigator or an attorney, they know nothing about your complaint and they may even be clueless about your company, your industry or even the nature of your job. This is especially true if you are in a job that many people may not be familiar with or if you are in a job that has a rather complicated sounding title. So, you should focus on simplifying the information you are presenting to 3rd parties by providing clear explanations for why the evidence is being submitted, why it’s important/what it means, and how it ties in to your evidence, as a whole.

One way to do this is to label each piece of evidence with a brief statement about the relevance of the item and why the document is important. I recommend typing up an explanation of your evidence using the label making function of your computer software program. Then, simply print the information on a peel and stick label that can physically be attached to the front or back of your evidence.

Large shipping labels provide a substantial amount of space to make your notations. Be sure to include your name, case number (if you’ve been assigned one), and to number/catalogue each item being presented, in case your evidence becomes separated from your overall complaint.

As much as possible, include your evidence in chronological/date order, unless you feel there is another way of compiling your evidence that makes more sense. For example, you may decide that you want to group emails together, memos and other documentation in another section, etc. If your evidence is broken into sections, label your evidence appropriately.

For example, Item #1, Section A – Harassing Email or Item #1, Section B – Threats to My Job Security, Item #1 or Section C – Tangible Employment Actions (Proof of Demotion Without Basis, Proof of Being Denied a Promotion for a Discriminatory Motives, etc. ). Here’s an example of what the text might look like on a label:

Jenna Doe – Case Number 12-345A: Item #1, Section A –Harassing Email – Dated January 1, 2005, 10:35 am – Sent from Jane Doe, Immediate Supervisor.

Description –This is an email from my supervisor, which is offensive, contains false allegations, and was sent to a group of managers who assign staff to project work. The purpose of the email was to falsely criticize my job performance and create problems for me in finding work assignments. After this email was sent, I was denied work on a project that had been promised to me by another manager and I was told that the allegations in the email would prevent me from being promoted at the end of the year. I was threatened with termination, if I did not improve my work.

NOTE: ALWAYS INCLUDE THE IMPACT AND RELEVANCE OF ACTIONS IN YOUR DESCRIPTION (the secion in bold, above). Shrink your font, if you need to, but make sure the print is not excessively small.

Friday, June 18, 2010

QUICK TIPS: Promotion Announcements Can Help You Prove Discrimination

If you are trying to demonstrate disparate treatment and discrimination in the workplace, having a copy of promotion charts or announcements will help illustrate who is receiving promotions at your company and who is being passed over.

Many companies will email or post a list of promotions when announcing the good news to the rest of the workforce or they may send out emails announcing individual promotions.

Save any written notices of promotions and make copies of the announcements in case your electronic files are accidentally deleted. If detailed information is not included in the promotion announcements, do as much research as you can to obtain the grade/level, race, and previous title of each individual, if you have a way of identifying this information. Write this information on the promotion announcement for each person. Always think about what information you need to prove a case of racial discrimination by an organization.

If over time you can show that only Whites are promoted or there is a rare Black promotion, this information could help you prove there's something amiss at your job.

While you're employed, save everything that's relevant. But, be really sneaky about it. If you're having issues, you are being watched!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh...It's Not That Serious!!

What happens if there is an incident at work and management alleges you shouldn't be upset because what happened wasn't all that serious, according to them?

According to the Supreme Court:

“…when isolated incidents that are not “extremely serious” come to the attention of management, appropriate corrective action should still be taken so that they do not escalate.” Faragher, 118 S.Ct. at 2283.

In other words, your employers can not justify inaction, in regard to an isolated incident, by saying that the incident was only a minor or moderate level incident. Any harassing or discriminatory incident that is reported to management should receive consideration for corrective action.

Remember, management is legally obligated to prevent and correct the effects of harassment and other illegal behavior. Therefore, management can’t assign “code levels,” like the former security alert system used for terrorism (orange, red, etc.), to determine when they will attempt to stop negative behaviors from escalating.

They MUST establish and implement an appropriate corrective response that will put an end to the behavior.

Monday, June 14, 2010

LEGAL BRIEF: Race and Age Discrimination...But It's Not What You Think!!

This is a particularly interesting Legal Brief because it involves intersectional discrimination (more than one type of discrimination, e.g. race AND age) for...wait for it...a White, female worker.

Sometimes, we get so absorbed in our own issues that we forget that there are people all over the country of various stripes who may be dealing with issues in the workplace.

As I was reading the details of this complaint, much of what was going on sounded like a page right out of the discrimination handbook that many Blacks are forced to deal with: The complainant was subjected to adverse employment actions such as unduly harsh discipline, denied training, given the heaviest and most difficult workload and forced to provide work reports on a weekly instead of monthly basis. She was also yelled at and belittled in front of her African-American coworkers.

How many times have we heard a similar scenario with Blacks? Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, homosexuals, older workers, the disabled, and, yes, even Whites may be subject to illegal abuses in the workplace.

For details on this case, see below:


Spencer Reed Group Pays $125,000 to Settle EEOC Race and Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Federal Agency Charged Staffing Company Fired White Woman for Complaining About Race and Age Bias in Atlanta Office

ATLANTA – Spencer Reed Group, LLC, a Kansas-based staffing company that provides staffing and administrative services to employers, will pay $125,000 to settle a race and age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced on June 9th. The EEOC had charged that Spencer Reed Group violated federal law by discriminating against 55-year-old Caucasian employee at its Atlanta office because of her race and age and firing her as retaliation for her complaining about it.

According to the EEOC(s suit, the complainant, a senior functional analyst (SFA) for Spencer Reed since 2003, was treated differently in many ways because of her age and race. She was subjected to adverse employment actions such as unduly harsh discipline, denied training, given the heaviest and most difficult workload and forced to provide work reports on a weekly instead of monthly basis. Further, the EEOC said, a supervisor yelled at and belittled the woman in front of her co-workers.

The woman’s co-workers, all younger African Americans, were not treated in the same manner by their supervisor, the EEOC said, and the supervisor would not speak to her at the same time she addressed the other employees. One of the woman’s co-workers, a lead financial management analyst, said she felt that the treatment indicated “prejudice.” Finally the employee complained about the disparate treatment, but she was fired as retaliation the next day, the EEOC charged.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against people due to race, color, religion, sex or national origin and from retaliation against employees for complaining about it. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees who are 40 or older because of age. The EEOC filed suit on August 17, 2009 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division (Case No.: 1:09-CV-2228) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court.

The consent decree settling the suit, in addition to the monetary relief, includes provisions for equal employment opportunity training, reporting, and posting of anti-discrimination notices. In the suit and consent decree, the Spencer Reed Group denied any liability or wrongdoing.

“Spencer Reed Group worked diligently with the parties in this case to come to a speedy resolution,” said Robert Dawkins, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta office. “Going forward, we believe the company is sincerely committed to avoiding these types of problems.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

QUICK TIPS: Share Your Ideas!

This is another big one for African Americans because we are often fighting the perception that we don’t care about our work, projects, etc. We’re sometimes perceived to be going through the motions and just waiting to cash a check.

To help fight this false perception, you should get more involved in projects--especially if you hope to advance within the company. Even if you are normally ignored, make sure you speak up in meetings. But, no matter what anyone says, don’t just speak for the sake of speaking. I once had a White manager tell me I should ask questions that I knew the answers to, that I should paraphrase or agree with something that someone already said or that I should make a suggestion, even if it wasn’t great or if I didn’t believe in what I was suggesting. The rationale was that this behavior supposedly showed I was listening and participating in the meeting. Sorry! I didn’t buy that argument then and I don’t buy that argument now. I think it’s clear when people are just talking to be talking and I think it makes you look ridiculous.

Tip #1: If you don’t have anything of value to contribute, shut up.

Tip #2: If you have a question, ask for answers.

Tip #3: If you make suggestions, keep a list of the ideas you’ve shared. That way, if you are later accused of not providing your input, you can respond with specific examples of ideas you’ve shared with the group.

Monday, June 07, 2010

One Comment Turned a Meeting Nasty!

This isn't about White on Black discrimination or harassment, but I wanted to share this anyway.

I was at work. There were about 20 workers and managers in the room. We were having a pre-shift meeting before starting our day in retail, when one of the managers (several were present) began to talk about all of the things that cashiers could do to build sales. As an on-floor supervisor of the cashiers, I spoke up and said that the managers had to hold everyone accountable for building sales because there was more potential to build a bigger sale on the sales floor as opposed to when a guest was checking out at the register. I said the burden shouldn't just be on cashiers, but everyone can look to see what a guest is holding and can recommend items that might go with it. They can tell guests we have 3 floors and engage with them. We ALL need to pitch in CONSISTENTLY with building sales.

Harmless enough.

A Black, male manager (from an earlier shift) took this as a personal attack and began challenging me by saying that someone in the store, who wasn't a cashier got a guest compliment.

So, I said that this had nothing to do with what I was talking about, I wasn't marginalizing other staff or saying they don't assist guests, I was simply saying that managers are on the sales floor talking only to the cashiers about building sales, when they should also speak to people replenishing the floors and to guest service associates. I said that cashiers were complaining amongst themselves and I was making management aware of the mood and issues on the sales floor.

You would think I told a Yo Mama joke to this man. He started to get personal and asked how I knew what everyone in the store was doing for 8 hours a day. I told him, again, that this had nothing to do with what I was saying. Of course I wasn't watching any one person for 8 hours. But, I told him that I have seen enough to know that the cashiers have a valid issue. I didn't need to watch anyone in particular for 8 hours. And, I was on the sales floor more than sales managers.

He wanted to escalate things and I was in the mood to oblige him, to be perfectly honest. So, we went back and forth, with him being slick mouthed and me being very direct and on topic and not backing down.

Finally, he asked if I wanted to have an honest discussion and I said, "Not with you! You aren't listening to a word I'm saying so there's no way we can have a conversation. You took my comments personally, for some unknown reason, and now you're being defensive. I have nothing else to say to you."

All he had to say to that was he could talk to me in the back, if I preferred. Yes, he went to a threat. I smiled, shrugged and said that was perfectly fine to me. "We can go now." He didn't like that much.

You know, I don't care if it seemed insubordinate. I am too old to allow someone to start wilding out on me for no reason. This is a manager, who goes on dates with workers and calls them at home after looking up their phone numbers in the employee database.

He called and questioned one female associate, who he saw flirting with guys in the store, "Oh, that's the type of broke a** n*ggers, you like? Don't you want a man who can do something for you?" This is after looking up her phone number on the workplace computer.

You wanna talk about violating workplace rights to privacy, sexual harassment and the like. So, I'm sorry, I just wasn't taking anything off this dude.

Funny thing is, when we got to the back, he was all soft-spoken and reasonable. I told him that I didn't like his tone or attitude. I kept it right up. I didn't care about being suspended or anything. I am tired of workplace hypocrisy. Rules for ones and none for the others.

This just reminded me of how easy it is for one person to get under your skin and get you to act out of character. People asked if I was angry. I told them I was annoyed.

I am tired of members of management thinking they can say and do what they want, even when it's unprovoked. I don't care if it's race-related or not. These people wouldn't dream of saying half the stuff they say at a bus-stop, for instance. They'd think about getting knocked out!! And, then they wouldn't say a word, in most cases.

That isn't a White issue or a Black issue. It's a butt-hole issue.

Anyway, that's my vent for the week. Thanks for reading and have a blessed day!!


This legal brief involves a Black and White woman, who were sexualy harassed. The Black worker was also racially harassed, including being told that her harasser had a family member in the KKK and being subjected to nasty comments about Blacks. The mistreatment was reported by both women, but nothing was done. The case was settled for 75k each and new measures for the workplace to prevent harassment and discrimination.

For details, see below:



National Denture Provider to Pay $150,000 to Settle EEOC Sex and Race Harassment Suit
Federal Agency Charged Affiliated Dentist Harassed Female Assistants

BOSTON – Affordable Care, Inc., a national denture provider, will pay $150,000 and furnish other relief to settle a sex and race discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced on June 2nd. The lawsuit, filed in March 2009 in federal court in Springfield, Mass., charged that Affordable Care violated federal law when its affiliated dentist, Nelson Wood, sexually and racially harassed two female employees.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Kinston, N.C.-based Affordable Care and Nelson Wood, operating as Nelson Wood, DMD, PC, created a sexually and racially hostile work environment for Ariede Mills, who is African American, and Laura Carl, who is white, at its office in West Springfield. The lawsuit alleged that, among other things, Wood referred to women as “whining b-----s,” propositioned Mills for sex, spanked Carl repeatedly on the buttocks, made insulting remarks about blacks, and claimed that he had a relative who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Both Mills and Carl complained repeatedly about Wood to Affordable Care, which is headquartered in North Carolina, but the company failed to stop the harassment. The EEOC also charged that Mills was fired in retaliation for her complaints, and that Carl was forced to quit because of the offensive conduct.

The settlement provides $75,000 each to Mills and Carl. In addition to the monetary payments, the consent decree resolving the litigation (Civil Action No. 1:09-cv-10399), approved by Judge Michael Ponsor today, enjoins Affordable Care and Wood from further discriminating on the basis of sex and race; creates an independent EEO coordinator to receive and investigate complaints of discrimination and retaliation at Affordable Care’s dental practices; mandates training on the requirements of anti-discrimination laws; and requires the issuance of a new anti-discrimination policy and the posting of a notice regarding the settlement.

Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., director of the EEOC’s New York District Office, which has jurisdiction over Massachusetts, said, “This case is a reminder that the EEOC will not allow a company like Affordable Care to escape liability for the actions of its affiliated entities when it maintains control over those operations.”

EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Markus L. Penzel in Boston added, “The EEOC is pleased that Affordable Care worked cooperatively with us to resolve this case with minimal litigation. We believe that the relief provided in the consent decree will help prevent what happened to Ms. Mills and Ms. Carl from happening to others in the future.”

On its web site, Affordable Care describes itself as a dental services organization currently supporting over 150 affiliated practices providing Affordable Dentures® in more than 37 states.

The EEOC is the federal government agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. Further information about EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at


Thursday, June 03, 2010


Sorry! I don't have time for a new post until Monday. I'm still working 2 jobs and I've got deadlines and other stuff going on. Thanks for your patience. Check back on Monday.

For those in the struggle right now, keep the faith!! You will get through it.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Handling False Complaints

Scenario: One day you are minding your business at your desk, when your manager suddenly approaches you and tells you that he/she received a complaint from a coworker that alleges you are guilty of a performance deficiency. For instance, that you’ve caused the team to miss a major deadline, that you are continually “rude” to staff, that you are passing along work that contains errors, that you are not responding to voice or email messages in a timely fashion, that you are revealing confidential/sensitive information to staff, etc.

You’re totally blind-sided by the false allegation. So, what do you do?

I know the temptation may be to raise an eyebrow, flare your nostrils, and go into attack mode. But, the reality is that any response that remotely takes the form of aggression will quickly help to turn the conversation away from any false allegations being against you, by making your response—and not the false accusation—the prime area for discussion.

So, the first step to dealing with false allegations is to REMAIN CALM! You would not believe the sorts of deviant behavior I’ve been falsely accused of in the past. I know how hard it is not to react in a big way because you are shocked, frustrated, angry, etc. and those are all legitimate reactions to being falsely accused of things that could lead to your firing, demotion, loss of promotion opportunities, etc.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remain calm. As African Americans, there are so many stereotypes and labels that surface during the course of a normal day. But, when there’s a stressful situation and a Black person is at the heart of it, the labeling and stereotyping—even by the most intelligent people—can really get out of hand.

Instead of reacting in an emotional way, stay calm and put the onus for the discussion back on your manager, as discussed in the example. Don’t rush to explain why you didn’t cause a deadline to be missed or why you aren’t guilty of some other infringement. Instead, force your employer and the person making the accusations to do all of the explaining and talking. Let them dig themselves a hole, as opposed to digging yourself a hole.

Tip #1: As calmly as you can, simply state: “This is the first time I’m hearing this. I’m really not sure what you’re referring to.” And, just wait. I don’t care if you do have an idea of what the issue is because you’ve been working with someone who is difficult or who is unaccountable for their actions (when there is a problem) or who is a racist, etc. Play dumb for a moment and let your manager tell you about the complaint. Ask for specific details about what you believe to be a false complaint and start thinking of your counterpoints.

NOTE: Don’t forget to ask for the alleged date/time of the incident and for the context in which it took place. For instance, the problem happened around 4:30 pm on January 4th, during a mass mailing for a client to send materials to conference participants. If you’re accused of personality-based problems, ask for dates/times and examples of when you exhibited this behavior. If someone is calling you rude, they should have no problem remembering what was being discussed and what “rude” response you gave.

Tip #2: If this is truly the first time you’ve heard the complaint, which I’m assuming is true, ask why the individual didn’t personally bring the problem to your attention. Bring up the protocol of employees attempting to resolve any issues on their own before seeking input from management. Remember, if the problem was really egregious, it would have made more sense for your coworker to speak to you about it—even before speaking to your manager. Most protocol suggests that employees work on problem solving together. Ask why your coworker went to your manager without giving you the courtesy of explaining what may or may not have happened, why it may or may not have happened, and without allowing you the opportunity to fix the perceived problem. Turn the discussion to the other person’s behavior, which really is an issue, if they didn’t speak to you first.

Tip #3: Calmly state the reasons why you disagree with the complaint. Pick apart the complaint. Think of any evidence (supporting documentation) that proves your point of view. For instance, the coworker may have emailed you instructions, which you saved. These instructions may show that you carried out an assignment per the specs provided. Or, you may have sent the individual an email warning them of the consequences of certain actions, such as skipping steps in a procedure, but you were ignored. For the moment, just focus on yourself and why you are not to blame. Forward all emails/voicemail to your manager, which supports your point of view. Or, print hard copies of any documents for your manager to read.

Tip #4: If you are being accused of false personality-based problems, ask if you need to solicit character references from staff that refute the claim. When my employers tried to falsely accuse me of being “angry and defensive,” I offered to get character references from staff and clients (I already had emails from clients that commented on my work ethic, professionalism, and temperament.) My employer quickly turned down this request. They didn’t want me having hard core evidence in my possession stating that I was a “joy to work with.” Make your employer piss or get off the pot. If they want to accuse you of this behavior, based on one person’s comments, you should have the right to refute the claims.

Tip #4: Talk in general terms about how these types of issues can be avoided in the future. This is how you can professionally get in your complaints about the individual making the allegations. For instance, you might say, “We discussed this potential problem at our January 2nd meeting. Janice (the person making the complaint) specifically said we didn’t need to worry about this and that we should proceed without changing our strategy. In the future, we need to ensure that task leaders are listening to the input of other staff, so that warnings are heeded and foreseeable problems like this can be avoided.”

Tip #5: When you’ve said your peace and handed over your evidence, find out the resolution to the complaint. Ask your manager where things stand, especially if you were accused of egregious behavior. Don’t let them surprise you with criticisms on your performance evaluation that you thought were non-issues. Make sure you are not being blamed for something you didn’t do. And, make sure that nothing is being put into your personnel file.

Tip #6: If you continue to be falsely blamed and decide that the accusation is too big of an issue to ignore, consider contacting HR to investigate. But, remember, there’s always the potential for a problem to escalate, once HR is involved.
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