False accusations at work – What are your rights and how to conduct yourself?

false accusations at work

Being falsely accused in the workplace is a harrowing experience for any employee to go through. Even if it is a rumour, it is important to ensure you clear all doubts about your character and performance at work. Oftentimes, the severity of the allegation might lead to a workplace investigation.

False accusations at the workplace have severe consequences such as job loss or a taint to your professional reputation. Hence, there is a need to follow the best approach in tackling workplace allegations. This is to ensure you don’t get the wrong tag slapped on you by either your employer or co-workers.

Have you faced any cases of false accusations in your workplace? Do you seek to understand how to act in such situations? Keep reading to figure out what your rights are and how to conduct yourself when you are falsely accused at your workplace.

If you are innocent, it is essential that you follow our guidance below. Because clearing your name of your false accusations is the number one priority. After all, not only could your job be on the line, but your professional reputation too. False accusations can seriously damage long-term career prospects. So it is of utmost importance to understand what your rights are. And how you can best go about clearing your name.

Workplace Investigation: An approach to solving false accusations at work.

A workplace investigation is a fact-finding exercise usually done by the Human Resource Department. It aims to identify the root of a problem or accusation and to assign the appropriate disciplinary action or resolution. Workplace investigations play an important role in resolving disputes at work. It is also an important steps to take in cases involving false accusations.

If conducted properly, investigations can help to protect the interests of the company by recognising wrongdoings. It can also allow the employer to understand all the facts regarding an accusation. And thereafter, make fair, objective and informed decisions regarding the employee’s fate. A poor investigation on the other hand may lead to potential legal tussle. And it can damage an employee’s professional reputation.

dismissal - unfairly dismissed - workplace specialists

What are your rights when falsely accused and now subject to an investigation?

You are entitled to procedural fairness during a case of false accusation at the workplace. Procedural fairness entails giving an employee a fair and reasonable opportunity to respond to issues or evidence that justify punishment or termination. Procedural fairness is concerned with the techniques used by a decision-maker, rather than the actual outcome of such a decision. Procedural fairness is sometimes called ‘natural justice’.

If your employer fails to afford you procedural fairness before you are dismissed, you could have a solid unfair dismissal claim to make with the Fair Work Commission. This could be the case even if:

  • Your employer has a valid reason for dismissing you. And;
  • Your dismissal is a fair and proportionate response to the accusation made against you.

How to ensure you receive procedural fairness in the workplace

  • An employer must inform the employee of allegations in a manner the employee can understand.
  • The employee should be allowed reasonable time to prepare a response to the allegations.
  • The employee must be allowed to make a response to the accusation to state his/her case during the proceedings.
  • An employer must adequately consider the employee’s response to the accusation.
  • An employer must allow the employee to have a support person present while attending any meetings related to their potential dismissal.

Signs that you have been denied procedural fairness

If you have been subject to a false accusation at work, it is critical that you keep an eye out for any signs that your employer is attempting to deny you your rights. Some signs that you may have been denied procedural fairness during a workplace investigation include:

  • Your employer has made an accusation against you in a manner that is difficult to understand.
  • You are not provided with all pertinent and critical material and evidence that must be addressed.
  • If you request certain material or evidence, your employer denies you access to it.
  • During the course of your workplace investigation, your employer levels other accusations against you concerning different or trivial matters.
  • You are not given the chance to provide your side of the story. Or raise any mitigating circumstances that could lean in your favour.
  • You are rushed by your employer to provide your response. Or they give you insufficient time to provide it.
  • A chief witness has been appointed to run your workplace investigation. This can cause a conflict of interest.
  • The person appointed to conduct your workplace investigation may have a real or perceived bias or prejudice against you.
  • Your employer has unreasonably delayed your investigation from taking place. This could lead the investigation to becoming prejudiced.
  • Your employer decides to discipline or dismiss you before your workplace investigation has finished.
  • Your employer withholds the outcome of your workplace investigation from you.

How to conduct yourself when faced with false accusations at work.

Facing a false accusation in your workplace is often a daunting prospect. It may raise a number of emotions in you. And you may feel compelled to act on these emotions. However, it is unwise to act on your emotions, but instead choose to act rationally.

Often, those accused of false accusations at work end up being their own worst enemy. One mere ill-conceived outburst, comment, phone call or text message can severely derail your prospects. Even your body language can be used against you if you seem defensive or aggressive. Even if you are innocent, all these things can add up to make people think that you are guilty.

Facing false accusations at work can be distressing, but it’s essential to handle the situation professionally and calmly. Here’s how to conduct yourself:

  1. Stay Calm: Reacting emotionally or defensively can escalate the situation. Take a moment to process the information before responding.
  2. Seek Clarification: Politely ask for specific details about the accusations to understand the full scope of the claims against you.
  3. Document Everything: Keep a record of all interactions related to the accusation, including dates, times, locations, and the people involved. This can be crucial if you need to present your side of the story.
  4. Consult with HR: Schedule a meeting with the human resources department to discuss the accusations and express your concerns. They can guide you on the company’s procedures for handling such matters.
  5. Avoid Gossip: Do not discuss the accusations with co-workers. This can spread misinformation and harm your reputation further.
  6. Seek Advice: If the accusations are severe or you believe they might lead to disciplinary action, consider consulting with A Whole New Approach to understand your rights.
  7. Gather Evidence: If you have emails, messages, or other documents that can refute the accusations, compile them. They can be instrumental in proving your innocence.
  8. Stay Professional: Continue to perform your job duties to the best of your ability. Avoid confrontations with the accuser or others related to the matter.
  9. Consider Mediation: If tensions rise, suggest mediation or conflict resolution sessions to address the issue constructively.
  10. Seek Support: Talk to trusted friends or family outside of work or consider professional counselling to cope with the emotional stress.

It is essential that you maintain a calm demeanour and try to take everything in your stride. Make sure that you do all the right things while your employer conducts a workplace investigation into your false accusation. This will not only help you come out of it with a cleared name and keep your job. But also ensure that you do not do further harm to your professional reputation.

Here are some tips on how you can conduct yourself in the face of false accusations in the workplace

  • Be cooperative with your workplace investigation: A good way to start your defence is to be cooperative with the ongoing workplace investigation in your workplace. Always be ready to speak with investigators or the HR department about what you have been accused of. Even if you know you are innocent, failing to respond to queries might indicate dishonesty on your part and worsen the situation.
  • Be professional: Always endeavour to stay calm throughout the process. Don’t go about seeking retribution in your heated state. Think carefully about your options and choose the best.  Don’t give your employer a reason to believe that you are an unprofessional employee and give off a hint that you are guilty of whatever you are being accused of. Stay logical, and put facts before emotions.
  • Keep a record: A workplace investigation may ensue after an accusation is levelled at you. Keeping documented records of what had transpired between you and the accuser will go a long way to helping you come out unscathed. It may seem trivial to do so but keeping a thorough record of this investigation may help you in the future. Keeping a record will also help keep your story consistent and provide ample evidence to help you wriggle out of such a situation.
  • Understand your rights: Knowing what your rights are will help you stay professional and avoid being mistreated during an investigation. Carefully go through your organisation’s employee handbook or policies to note how grievances are handled. Seek to understand state and federal laws guiding employees. Carry out extensive research on what constitutes your rights in such situations. This will help you judge when your rights are being infringed by your employer and whether the investigation process is fair.
  • Find your witnesses: Defending yourself in a case of false accusation may involve finding witnesses to back up your claims. While it might seem like a way of bringing your friends to your aid, key witnesses are important in an investigation as they provide collaborative support to your side of the story. Your accuser might also have a long list of witnesses, so why can’t you?
  • Seek legal support: False accusations in the workplace can be a confusing phase for any employee. To ensure you don’t end up kicked out of the door or have your professional image in the mud, you should get legal support. This is especially important in severe cases that involve harassment, bullying, or theft. You should also be ready to take legal action if the investigation turns out unfavourably.
  • Don’t get distracted in your tasks: While you are battling false accusations at work, you should avoid being distracted from your assigned tasks. Maintain a healthy balance. Keep doing your work well  while also keeping a close eye on your workplace investigation and preparing your evidence for HR. Do not give your employer a reason to believe that you are incompetent and unable to stay on your work in the middle of a crisis.
  • Be careful of your body language: While you might be bothered about such situations at work, endeavour to keep your body language positive. This is more important than many people might think. Your employer or the investigating team might be on the lookout for any tell-tale sign of guilt or unease. Many people, often incorrectly, attribute guilt to someone based on their facial expression. The way they are sitting or standing. Even their vocal tone. Even if you do not feel relaxed, try practicing having a calm, open and relaxed composure. It will help not only put others at ease, but yourself too.
workplace investigation

Bank worker ordered to pay $5.8M after making false accusations

If you have been subject to a false accusation at work, you are not alone. Australia’s courts have dealt with several high profile cases involving employees who fabricated allegations against colleagues.

Gary Pinchen

One such case is Dye v Commonwealth Securities Limited [2012]. This Federal Court case involved Commonwealth Bank employee Vivienne Dye. She had been employed at the Commonwealth Bank for just over two and half years – seven months of which she spent on sick leave for mental health reasons. Ms Dye was eventually made redundant. And following that, she made several claims to the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

In her complaints, Ms Dye alleged that she had been sexually harassed and faced discrimination based on her sex. Also, that she had been discriminated against due to her disability. And that she had been victimised due to making complaints of sexual harassment at the Commonwealth Bank. Her complaints were levelled at two of her senior managers. She had accused one of her managers of sexually harassing and sexually assaulting her. And the other manager of sexually harassing her. These accusations, it would later be found by the Federal Court, turned out to be false accusations.

Ms Dye’s false accusations make national media headlines

In April 2008, a number of leading national publications, including The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, published the accusations Ms Dye had made against the two managers. This compelled the Commonwealth Bank to respond to the articles. The company stated that it had conducted workplace investigations into the accusations. And that the outcome of these had determined that Ms Dye’s accusations were unfounded.

Commonwealth Bank also came to the determination that Ms Dye had only begun to make these accusations after her work performance was declared unsatisfactory. The Commonwealth Bank then declared to the newspapers that it would support both managers in any legal action they wanted to take to clear their names.

With the help of the Commonwealth Bank, one of the managers decided to sue News Limited, publisher of The Daily Telegraph. This was because the paper had refused to apologise for publishing the false accusations made against him. Ms Dye was cross-examined during the defamation proceedings. And News Limited ended up reaching a settlement with the manager.

Federal Court says Ms Dye’s false accusations driven by a “venomous desire for revenge”

Not long after, Ms Dye took the Commonwealth Bank to the Federal Court, alleging sexual harassment and discrimination by the two managers. She also launched a defamation proceeding against the Commonwealth Bank and one of the managers. Unfortunately for Ms Dye, both these court actions were dismissed by the judge. And both managers were exonerated from any of the false accusations made against them.

During the trial, Federal Court Judge Robert Buchanan said that both men were “blameless.” And that the accusations made against them were not only “without substance.” They were also “in respect to some matters, completely fabricated.” He said that Ms Dye had made “knowingly false” accusations against the two men. And that she had been motivated to make the false accusations by a “venomous desire for revenge.”

“I’m going to get that c***:” Judge says Ms Dye wanted revenge after being romantically rebuffed

Judge Buchanan did not hold back in describing the significant fabrications orchestrated by Ms Dye. And the malicious intentions behind them. He said that Ms Dye had fabricated her case “as though it was a novel.” And that she had left out certain events in a “bewildering fashion.” Judge Buchanan also remarked that in making the false accusations, the credibility of Ms Dye was left “in tatters.”

Judge Buchanan proceeded to make a series of scathing judgements of Ms Dye. He stated that it was in fact her who made romantic advances towards one of the managers. Judge Buchanan said that Ms Dye was hoping for a “close and intimate” relationship with him. But when the manager chose not to reciprocate her advances, Ms Dye “turned from seeking his attention to a desire to be revenged on him.”

The manager had testified to the court that Ms Dye had very pernicious intentions to seek revenge. He stated that she had told a colleague that she was going to pursue a sexual harassment case against him. And that she had also said “I’m going to get that c***, and I’m going to f**king destroy him and his family.”

The court proceeding revealed Ms Dye sought the help of the other manager to pursue her sexual harassment action in court. However, the manager declined to help her. For this refusal, Ms Dye then turned on him. She concocted false accusations against the second manager and initiated a legal action against him.

Judge Buchanan said that while the two men had been exonerated, the “stain” on their reputations remained.

“The allegations against them were false,” said Judge Buchanan. “They should not have been made. They should not have been pursued.”

Ms Dye is ordered to pay Commonwealth Bank’s $5.85 million in legal costs

After it was deemed that she had made false accusations, Judge Buchanan ordered Ms Dye to pay the Commonwealth Bank’s legal costs. She was required to pay the costs on an indemnity basis. This meant that the Commonwealth Bank could recover all of its legal costs, rather than the two-thirds that is usually awarded.

However, Ms Dye’s barrister told the court that she would “probably” be unable to pay the Commonwealth Bank’s legal costs. He stated that the only assets that she had to her name were a mobile phone and a computer.

bank worker unfair dismissal case with false accusations

A false accusation can backfire on your accuser

As the previous case shows, when a work colleague makes a false accusation about you, and you are proven innocent, it can have severe consequences for the accuser.

Even if your false accusation does not make it to the courtroom, your accuser can still face consequences in the workplace. If a workplace investigation clears you of any wrongdoing, your employer can fairly dismiss your accuser for knowingly making a false accusation.

The Fair Work Commission has in recent times rejected several unfair dismissal claims made by employees who were dismissed for falsely accusing a colleague. A recent unfair dismissal case of this nature is Ms Linda Hanrick v Meridian Lawyers (2018).

Legal secretary’s false accusations about colleagues backfire

In the unfair dismissal case, a legal secretary made a series of false accusations about multiple colleagues. The false accusations were retaliatory, coming after she had an accusation of bullying made against herself.

The bullying accusations against the secretary came from a female colleague, Nicole. She accused the secretary of regularly making “rude and hurtful” comments about her and others. This included saying:

“The poor guy married to Nicole. She’s horrible. And a bully. No-one likes her. Not even Trevor likes Nicole.”

Nicole complained to human resources about the secretary’s comments. She also told them that other staff members had had issues with her too. Nicole alleged that when they attempted to walk past the secretary in the office, she did “not move an inch to let you pass.”

Secretary denies she is a bully, then makes false accusations

The secretary was soon summoned to a meeting with the law firm’s principals to discuss the bullying accusation made against her. She flatly denied that she had made hurtful comments towards Nicole. The secretary then decided to make a series of false bullying accusations aimed at several of her colleagues.

She claimed that a senior lawyer and one of the firm’s principals regularly made derogatory comments about her. This included referring to her as “chook.” She also claimed that she was told “You are evil, you evil girl” as well as “You’re thick.”

The secretary also claimed that a lawyer placed “satirical paraphernalia” on her desk. By this, she was referring to copies of the Law Society Journal. The secretary deemed the act satirical as the commonly used acronym for the Journal – LSJ – was similar to her own initials.

Law firm launches investigation, deems accusations to be false

Based on the secretary’s complaints, the law firm conducted a workplace investigation into the alleged bullying. The investigation soon determined that the secretary had made false accusations against her colleagues.

The lawyer who conducted the workplace investigation soon set a meeting with the secretary. She told her that her “false allegation is serious” and that the firm was considering dismissing her.

The secretary did not react kindly to this news. During the meeting, she yelled at the lawyer, saying “you can’t do that.” She told the lawyer that “you’ve had it in for me from the start.” The secretary then brought up the issue of the journals, saying that the LSJ title used by those in the firm was “the rhetoric of bullies.” She also claimed that the lawyer had at one time asked to have a “quick chat” with her. And that according to her, the use of “quick chat” was also the “rhetoric of bullies.”

The secretary strenuously denied fabricating her bullying accusations. And she later denied yelling at the lawyer who conducted the workplace investigation. The law firm subsequently dismissed the secretary for making false accusations. She thereafter made an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission.

Legal secretary makes false accusations

Fair Work Commission rejects unfair dismissal claim

The Fair Work Commission Deputy President Peter Sams did not hold back in criticising the secretary during her unfair dismissal hearing. He found that not only had she invented false “retaliatory” accusations of bullying, she had gone beyond that. The Deputy President remarked that the evidence the secretary provided to the Fair Work Commission demonstrated a “disconnect between reality and fiction.”

“Sadly, if ever there was a case where a dismissed employee was the foolish and misguided choreographer of their own downfall, this must be it,” said Deputy President Sams.

He went on to say that the secretary intended to “set out to cast her net of complaints far and wide across the firm” to falsely accuse them. And to do this, the Deputy President remarked that she had “made up allegations which were utterly implausible or preposterous.”

Deputy President Sams regarded the secretary’s claim that the Law Society Journals were used as satirical paraphernalia as “bizarre and fanciful.” He said that she had attempted to paint a picture that she was the sole victim of widespread bullying from multiple colleagues across the firm. However, the Deputy President found that “nothing could be further from the truth.”

Deputy President Sams ultimately found that the secretary’s dismissal was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. He remarked that she had a “complete lack of contrition or regret” for making the false accusations. And that the arrogance that she had displayed was the “most disturbing and unfathomable” feature of the case.

Wrapping up

False accusations in your workplace may throw you off balance and lead to disillusionment. It is an understandably stressful time where you do not know how things will pan out.

But whether the accuser is your employer, customer, or coworker, there is a need for you to know your rights in such situations. And it is equally important to understand how you should conduct yourself while waiting for the verdict of a workplace investigation. This is the best way to ensure the truth will come, that you keep your job, and that your name is cleared.

You are entitled to procedural fairness if false accusations have been made against you at work. Your employer should allow you to defend yourself against such accusations. And they must ensure they do everything by the book and not cut corners by denying your rights. It is critical that you look out for any signs that your employer is attempting to deny you procedural fairness.

Depending on the severity of your false accusation, you may need to seek legal help. This is especially the case if your false accusation borders on issues like sexual harassment or bullying. Seeking the help of experts can also provide the much needed guidance you need to file for an unfair dismissal claim through the Fair Work Commission, should the need arise.

Have you been falsely accused? We can help.

If you are currently facing false accusations at work, A Whole New Approach can help. You may be unsure of how your workplace investigation will play out. And you scared of a possible unfair dismissal from your job. A Whole New Approach can provide you with assistance to take action through the Fair Work Commission and secure the result you deserve.

With us, you are in good hands. We are Australia’s leading workplace mediators, with over two decades of experience helping over 16,000 workers make unfair dismissal claims. We can provide the expert guidance you need to ensure you have the best chance of achieving reinstatement or financial compensation.

Utilise our free consultation today, and speak to any of our agents on 1300 766 700 to discuss your options. We work in all states, including Victoria, NSW, QLD, SA, WA, and TAS. And we offer a no win, no fee service.