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Recently, a co-worker of mine claimed to my supervisor that while I was on a forklift and relocating pallets, I pushed a pallet and hit her with it twice throughout the day. I told my supervisor that I did push a pallet close to my co-worker and she was startled by it, but nothing ever came close to hitting her, not even once. My supervisor "temporarily" took me off of the forklift until the people in HR can figure out what's going on. It'll be a few days before I go back in for my shift, but there are no camera's to prove what happened and no injuries or marks on my co-worker. I'm not sure if it would be better to go in and talk to HR to find out what they'll say and explain my side of the story better, or just wait until my shift starts and find out from my supervisor. I don't think I'm at risk of getting fired, but I'm worried I may lose my position for forklift operating.

How do companies handle a my-word-against-yours situation?

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    Do you not have incident reporting at the time of the accident? Did she not report it at the first time it happened? If she did, why were you not aware of it at that point? – Simon O'Doherty Aug 5 '13 at 6:32
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    Welcome to the Workplace Reenan! You have a great question but it was a bit hidden so I edited your post to make it clearer to get you better answers. I didn't try to change the meaning, but if you think I left something important out, please feel free to edit it. Thanks again for the great question! – jmac Aug 5 '13 at 6:59
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    Do you have any sort of union where you work? This will affect things. Also FYI, where I work, doing what you did is a pretty serious problem by itself (moving pallets by people who aren't paying attention). This is a safety incident waiting to happen – enderland Aug 5 '13 at 13:26
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    If I were hit twice with a pallet, I would expect to have bruises. If the lady has no bruises her story is less credible. – HLGEM Aug 6 '13 at 15:00
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    What are your company rules regarding forklift operation? This will also have an impact. At the places I've worked, whenever a forklift is used, there's always a spotter, and a given section of the floor is physically blocked off and no one (not even the spotter) is allowed to go past. If you have any rules like this, then it will likely fall (more) in favor of whoever followed the rules. – Shauna Aug 7 '13 at 16:01
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As a general rule, HR people look for patterns - do you drive a forklift carelessly and damage goods, hurt people, or wreck equipment routinely? If so, they're going to pull you off forklift duty.

Similarly, is the lady a 'complainer'? Does it seem like everyone she comes in contact with bothers her, or some group of people are 'problems' that she can barely deal with.

She might be afraid you will hit her the way you're operating the equipment - if she has to be in the warehouse routinely and you're operating 'too close for comfort' she might decide it's better to say something before anyone gets hurt. If you cut it close all the time, she might view this as an accident waiting to happen. However, if she's already told this to HR and they don't talk to you, she might be escalating it to something more serious to get them to respond.

If you know she (or anyone else) is there, back off a bit so she doesn't feel threatened.

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    "she might view this as an accident waiting to happen" -- certainly where I work, we're required to report 'near misses'. Almost an accident is taken as seriously as an actual accident in order to prevent actual accidents happening because people become careless or inattentive over time. – Rob Moir Dec 17 '14 at 19:00
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It has been my observation that in most companies, they may try to find corroborating evidence if possible but if they can't, they tend to take the side of the employee that they feel is more valuable to the company which often translates into who is higher paid.

In this case as this is a safety violation, it is entirely possible they would take the conservative action of removing you from the job if you can't prove you were operating safely. Personally, I would contact a labor lawyer.

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In some cases where HR can't determine fault you may find that both employees are "punished" if HR believes that the events leading to the incident, or the dispute after the incident have poisoned the environment. They fear that this is the start of a pattern. Even if there is not enough evidence either way they will make sure that the chances of the two individuals interacting on a regular basis is minimized. They might decide that a change in shift, duty station, or job will separate the individuals.

This is to avoid the situation where one employee is so angry with the process that they force an escalation of the violence. The victim could become the aggressor, or the aggressor can decide that they can getaway with it again; or the false accuser could try again.

The level of punishment is not severe enough to cause the innocent person to protest, because they can see that the main goal is to stop the incidents. It also allows HR/management to see if one of the two goes out of their way to continue the incidents. Or if they change their focus to another target. Again this is done when there is no way to determine fault.

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    Escalation of violence? There has been no violence. – jmac Aug 5 '13 at 23:36
  • The victim claims they were hit, the OP said the pallet came close but missed. In the US if the action was on purpose that could be considered en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault. – mhoran_psprep Aug 6 '13 at 0:50
  • "I did push a pallet close to my co-worker and she was startled by it, but nothing ever came close to hitting her" It did not come close (and we have no reason to believe it did). It also doesn't help address the question, which is "How are he-said she-said situations dealt with?", not "Is this assault?" or "How can I prevent pallet accidents?" – jmac Aug 6 '13 at 1:02
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    We have one side of the incident, the answer explains that HR will sometimes decide that separation is the best course even if the truth can't be determined. The water is poisoned, one has not told the truth, or their perception of what happened is flawed. Their ability to work together is broken. To prevent escalation HR will not just ignore the incident, they will diffuse the incident. – mhoran_psprep Aug 6 '13 at 3:13
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Word against word scenarios are problematic. HR must act in an impartial and decisive manner much like the judicial system. I haven't worked in this area but I would imagine they would do some investigation gathering the facts as seen by those involved. I would also imagine that they would review your safety record, length of service, and might even interview others in your workplace to determine if the accusation is justified. Unlike a criminal court the facts do not have to measure up to the 'beyond a reasonable doubt' criteria. HR can and should make a decision based on what little evidence they can find. It may not seem fair to reprimand you without 100% proof but it may happen.

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    If there's one thing I would ever not equate HR systems to, it's the justice system. HR is there to protect the interests of the company, not the interests of justice, and if the company is best protected by dismissing someone, they will do it, even if they know it isn't objectively fair. – jmac Aug 5 '13 at 23:35
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If you're in the US, then any forklift accident would fall under OSHA Law and Regulation(https://www.osha.gov/law-regs.html). HR may be following OSHA regulations for an accident since this person says she was injured. Before you will know the resolution, they may have to do an investigation to protect the company.

If it is an OSHA issue, you may be able to find out what the process is from your boss or foreman. You might also have good luck googling OSHA regulations, you might be able to determine if the suspension is part of OSHA, and what your rights and obligations are.

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