False accusations got me dismissed
False accusations made against an employee can have devastating consequences. Not only can it lead to them being dismissed, it can also irreparably damage their career and reputation. While false accusations are exceedingly rare – particularly in the case of sexual assault, where they account for just 5 per cent of accusations – they do happen. It is used by some employees as a defense mechanism to defend themselves against poor performance concerns by the employer. Some people just unfortunately have unhappy lives and want others to suffer as well
Of course, someone who accuses a colleague of sexual harassment, bullying or any other form of workplace wrongdoing should always be believed. And the accusation should never be treated as false from the outset.
False accusations at work: What to do
Australia’s workplace laws ensure that any accusations must be dealt with according to a certain process. And while this process ensures the accuser is believed, it also dictates that the accused is entitled to certain rights. This process ensures that both the accuser and accused are treated fairly, and the matter is investigated properly to ensure a just outcome.
In this article, we explain the rights that a falsely accused employee has and how they can respond. We also provide a real-life example of an unfair dismissal case involving an employee who made false accusations at work. This will help you understand how such behaviour is dealt with by the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
False accusations and procedural fairness
When an accusation is made against an employee, they have the right to procedural fairness. What this means in lay terms is that the employee must be given a chance to explain their side of the story and defend themselves.
Specifically, Australia’s workplace laws dictate that the accused employee must be provided with a fair and reasonable opportunity to respond to the accusation. This must be done before any disciplinary measures are taken or a decision to dismiss the employee is made. If an accused employee is denied procedural fairness before they are dismissed, you have the right to make an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair work.
Not being afforded the right to procedural fairness is a common reason why many unfair dismissal claims end up being successful. This is often the case even if the employer had a valid reason to dismiss the employee or if the dismissal is considered fair and proportionate in the circumstances.
Signs you may have been denied procedural fairness
If a false accusation is made against you, your employer will conduct a workplace investigation. During this investigation, you may have been denied procedural fairness if your employer:
- Informs you about the accusation in a way that’s difficult to understand.
- Doesn’t provide you with all relevant and significant material that must be addressed.
- Doesn’t outline the scope of the investigation set to take place.
- Makes other accusations about different or unimportant matters.
- Doesn’t give you the opportunity to explain your side of the story.
- Doesn’t provide you with a reasonable amount of time to formulate a response to the accusation.
- Has chosen a key witness to conduct the investigation, which raises a conflict of interest.
- Has chosen someone who may have real or perceived biases or prejudices to conduct the investigation.
- The investigation doesn’t take place promptly, which can lead to unfair prejudice due to delays.
- Makes a decision to discipline or dismiss you prior to the investigation running its full course.
- Doesn’t inform you about the results of the investigation.
What should you do if you are facing false accusations?
Having a false accusation made against you is of course a stressful experience that may make you feel angry and frustrated. But it’s important that you don’t provide your accuser or anyone investigating your accusation any ammunition that can be used against you.
Often, those facing false accusations can be their own worst enemy. All it can take is one emotional outburst, rash comment or text message to make you seem guilty, even if you aren’t. Even your body language, if interpreted as defensive or aggressive, can work against you. It’s therefore vitally important that you remain calm, levelheaded and logical while your employer investigates your accusation.
Offer your full cooperation when questioned
Ensure that you remain professional and cooperative with the workplace investigation. When you are asked questions about your alleged conduct, answer them. Failing to do so could make it seem that you are being dishonest. And ensure that you don’t lash out when apparent evidence of your guilt is put before you. Respond in a professional and logical manner, while sticking to the facts.
Gather supporting evidence and witnesses
When a false accusation is levelled against you, it’s important to carefully look back at the events that transpired between you and your accuser. Try and gather any documented evidence that can contradict the accusation, like emails, text messages or any other written documents.
If you can, it’s also very helpful to your case if you can enlist the support of key witnesses. Think about who may have been present when an alleged incident between you and your accuser took place. It’s also helpful if you can enlist the support of witnesses who can attest to your general behaviour and that of your accuser.
Seek legal advice
Facing false accusations and a workplace investigation on your own is a daunting experience for anyone. It means understanding the specifics of workplace laws to ensure your rights aren’t infringed. It also means knowing how to act and what you need to do to fulfil your legal responsibilities as your investigation plays out.
Legal support is especially needed when false accusations are particularly serious. For instance, if it involves sexual harassment or bullying. And if your investigation turns out unfavorably, it’s essential to have expert advice to guide you on how to take further action.
Can an employee be dismissed for making false accusations?
A false accusation can be valid reason for dismissal, as shown in the case Ms Linda Hanrick v Meridian Lawyers (2018). In this unfair dismissal case, legal secretary for Meridian Lawyers Linda Hanrick made false accusations about several of her colleagues. This came after she had first been accused of bullying herself.
The bullying complaint against Ms Hanrick came from a special counsel at the firm, Nicole Cerisola. It was alleged that Ms Hanrick regularly muttered “rude and hurtful comments” to Nicole, who reported a specific incident to the HR team in which Linda muttered to her:
The poor guy married to Nicole. She’s horrible. And a bully. No-one likes her. Not even Trevor likes Nicole. Never makes eye contact, says hello or otherwise acknowledges most of us.”
Ms Cerisola also said that Ms Hanrick She also alleged that when encountering Ms Hanrick in the office, “she does not move an inch to let you pass.”
Ms Hanrick claims they were false accusations, counters with her own
During a meeting with two of the firm’s principals, Ms Hanrick strenuously denied muttering insults to Ms Cerisola. She then claimed that she had been bullied by several colleagues. She made a number of what later turned out to be false accusations, including accusing:
- A senior lawyer of referring to her as “chook.” She also claimed that one of the firm’s principals told her “You are evil, you evil girl” as well as “You’re thick.”
- A senior partner of the firm of targeting her and her family.
- A colleague of “strategically” placing “satirical paraphernalia,” that is some Law Society Journals, on the side of a table during a meeting. Ms Hanrick alleged that this was part of an attempt to get under her skin, as she shared the same initials as the Law Society Journals (LJH.)
Meridian deemed that “on the balance of probabilities” these were false accusations, and Ms Hanrick was subsequently dismissed. She later lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair work Commission.
The Fair work makes its ruling
At her unfair dismissal hearing, Ms Hanrick said that she made the bullying accusations because she had previously raised how she was being treated. She said that her concerns had been dismissed because she was seen as a “silly person” by those at Meridian.
But FWC Deputy President Peter Sams found that Ms Hanrick had conjured up false accusations of bullying. He said that she had “made up allegations which were utterly implausible or preposterous.” Deputy President Sams ultimately found that Ms Hanrick’s false accusations were tantamount to serious misconduct. He therefore ruled that her dismissal had not been harsh, unjust or unreasonable.
“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.
A Whole New Approach can help
If you’re facing false accusations at work, A Whole New Approach can provide you with expert advice. We are not lawyers, but the nations leading advisors and commentators. Our highly experienced team can ensure you understand your rights and responsibilities as part of a workplace investigation. We can help ensure that you can successfully defend yourself and clear your name. And if you have been dismissed, we can help you lodge an unfair dismissal application with the Fair work. All workplace harassment, adverse action, toxic workplaces.
We are proud of our staff and the outcomes we get for our clients.
Call us today on 1800 333 666 for a free and confidential conversation.
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