How to Deal with Being on the Receiving end of a Workplace Bullying and Harassment Allegations

When I was a junior police officer, my supervisor approached me during one of my night shifts and told me (in front of all of my colleagues) that he had dealt with a complaint that had been registered against me.
Apparently, it was an allegation of misconduct where I had allegedly “mistreated a member of the public.”
My Sergeant said that I “shouldn’t worry about it,” because he had “dealt with it and there was nothing more to be said.”
But I was of course worried about the whole situation, so I asked him if I could see the complaint to know what the specifics of the allegation were. He once again tried to reassure me that I shouldn’t worry about it, and ultimately dismissed my request.
There are several things that were seriously wrong with that conversation.
First, as an employee on the receiving end of a complaint by a member of the public, it is my right to see the allegation, or at the very least, have an opportunity to speak with the person making the allegation against me.
Additionally troublesome with this situation, is that the process that was in place under the Police Act Legislation, ensured due process. This means that there was (and still is) a process designed to ensure that a person on the receiving end of an allegation of misconduct has an opportunity to respond to that allegation by having a conversation with that person; or if that isn’t possible, has an opportunity for an investigation to determine whether the allegation is substantiated or should be dismissed.
Furthermore, I had done or said something as a police officer to upset a member of the public, but my supervisor was denying me the opportunity to learn from my mistake and make improvements.
In today’s workplaces, a similar structure exists within the policies that guide workplace conduct. In other words, your organization’s Bullying and Harassment Policy is legally required to have the steps laid out for everyone as to how they should deal with a situation when it occurs in the workplace.
That policy defines what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, and it certainly defines the responsibilities of every employee, supervisor, and employer.
So what happens when you, like me, are on the receiving end of an allegation stating that you have said or done something to upset a colleague, co-worker, or other person in the organization?
Even though your behaviour may have seemed innocent to you, it’s important to consider the negative impact it had on the other person.
It may also be helpful to consider the following when fingers are pointed in your direction:

  • Listen carefully to the complaint or allegations and what the particular concerns are.
  • Consider that you may have upset other people in the workplace, but for whatever reason they have not expressed their feelings to you.
  • Talk with a supervisor, union representative, or someone else that you trust.
  • Sharing a complaint with someone is not an easy thing to do, so make sure to cut this person some slack—it takes a lot of courage to confront a co-worker.
  • It’s upsetting to be accused of disrespectful or harassing behaviour, but keep calm and just listen.
  • Getting angry will only complicate the situation.
  • Whatever you do, don’t confront the accuser.
  • When emotions are at play, it’s very easy for people to misunderstand or misinterpret anything that is said to them.
  • Talk to your supervisor if you are completely sure that the accusations made against you are false.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are found to have bullied or harassed someone after their objection to your behaviour was made known, the situation will become much more serious. So, really make sure you have completely discussed and understand any current complaints or allegations at length, to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
An especially helpful tool in a situation like this is writing down your side of the story. It may not only prove to be a cathartic exercise, but if the situation gets more serious, having a written account of what happened from your perspective will be critical. There are always two sides to every story and statements can give managers and those involved in any potential investigation something to refer to.
But perhaps one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you, is don’t even think about retaliation for false accusations—It might be tempting, but two wrongs don’t make a right.
In many cases, accusations of bullying or disrespectful behaviour are the consequence of simple misunderstandings that were never given an opportunity to be sorted out effectively.
Even if the harassment or bullying allegation stems from a misunderstanding, chances are you’ll still need to adjust your behavior and change your style of communication in order to avoid a similar situation in the future.
It’s easy to go about our daily lives, and not realize or understand the impact we have on other people around us, especially our co-workers. So take this negative process as an opportunity to become more aware of how others perceive you and what you can do to be a positive force at work.
In my 35 years as a police officer, the only complaint I ever had against me was the one I was never able to actually deal with…..or so I have always believed!
Please use my supervisor’s mishandling of that situation as a wake-up-call for your own workplace.
Never deny someone the opportunity to resolve (or even stand up for themself) in a situation where bullying and harassment allegations are concerned.


About the Author:

Phil Eastwood is a former London Bobby who brings a thirty-five year career in policing to his role as Senior Partner of Fiore Group Training, a recognized leader in training top North American organizations. Phil is lead author of workplace training courses in respectful workplace training, workplace violence employee training, and leadership training seminars.

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