20

TL;DR

Is it ever appropriate to raise with HR that a colleague has made (subsequently disproved) accusations against colleagues in past workplaces?

Background

A manager at my company (let's call him manager X) has been accused of a serious breach of workplace policy (bullying) by Employee A, who reports to Manager X. If proven, the accusation would likely result in immediate dismissal of Manager X and would permanently damage his career.

I am aware of the issue after a HR representative queried how my interactions with Manager X had gone. I don't report directly to Manager X but have occasionally worked on projects run by him. In my experience, Manager X is a regular mid-level manager and hasn't demonstrated any behaviours that resemble bullying. The HR representative noted that the issue was particularly difficult to resolve because the accused bullying only occurred when no one else was around.

By chance, Employee A and I worked at another company a few years ago, again in different teams. In that company Employee A made very similar accusation against two of his successive managers. In both instances formal investigations were completed which exonerated the accused managers. This was possible because of statements from colleagues who said that Employee A grossly exaggerated events and other events could not have taken place because people were in different cities at the time. Employee A left the previous company shortly after the second accusation was dismissed.

Question

Is it appropriate to mention to HR my knowledge that Employee A has a history of making similar accusations against their manager given:

  • I've been asked by HR to comment on my experience in dealing with Manager X and nothing else.
  • I have no evidence to disprove what Employee A is now claiming about Manager X.
  • While I believe the investigations that took place at the previous company were thorough and unbiased, I have no evidence to confirm that.
  • BUT in the absence of any third-party information (just what Manager X and Employee A say), I have no doubt that Manager X will be dismissed "just to be on the safe side", which information relating to Employee A's past behavior may prevent.
  • This is somewhat relevant: workplace.stackexchange.com/q/13627/9549. +1 btw, good question – rath Jan 16 '16 at 15:13
  • Yes, for pete's sake, tell them! – Jim Clay Jan 19 '16 at 15:37
  • I agree with Jim, You should absolutely tell them. It helps HR make an informed decision, and possibly gives them valuable information. Either way HR should do a thorough investigation, but this could help solidify it. – Sh4d0wsPlyr Jan 19 '16 at 19:37
15

Your background information could lead to two entirely opposite conclusions :

  • Employee A is a malicious liar who claims harassment for personal benefit without regard for the impact on those accused. (While you don't say so, it seems this is your interpretation since you emphasize the impact on Manager X of this allegation.)

  • Employee A is vulnerable in some way and attracts (or fails to discourage) harassers, perhaps as part of a lifelong pattern. [The stuff about people being out of town is a red herring - traumatized people sometimes mix up facts, harassers sometimes have friends who close ranks to prevent those awful consequences.]

There's also a sort of middle ground:

  • Employee A has a lower bar for "I feel harassed by that" and a higher willingness to do something about it than most people.

I could therefore use your background information to conclude "he's probably making it up again" or "poor thing, he really doesn't see these guys coming, someone should take him under a wing."

I would suggest you move extremely cautiously with HR. Especially if you're sure this is a baseless claim, you wouldn't want to offer information that actually supports it. So answer what you were asked, truthfully and completely. Then, in a separate email with a different subject line (eg More info re Manager X) write something like:

I was recently asked some questions about Manager X and I believe it's related to Employee A. If it is, you should know I once worked with Employee A elsewhere and may have information that could be relevant. Let me know if it's useful to discuss this further.

My guess is HR does not want this information. But you will feel better if you offer it.

  • The poster did "against two of his successive managers" tell us the gender – Ed Heal Jan 16 '16 at 14:55
  • 1
    +1 for lower bar. Many people see someone willing to challenge bad behaviour or a hostile environment as weak when they're often a huge asset. – user52889 Jan 16 '16 at 16:52
  • 3
    I suspect that employee A in this case misinterprets managers being authoritative as being mean/bullying, or does not like to be (micro)managed. Feeling attacked is not the same as being attacked. – CKM Jan 17 '16 at 18:27
  • 1
    The OP states that some events at his previous employer could not have happened as people where on different cities at the moment. That would definitely cast some doubt on any claim by employee A. – Diego Sánchez Jan 18 '16 at 20:18
  • 2
    @DiegoSánchez and I said that's a red herring. It's possible the accuser misremembered dates due to being upset, or that others helped to deflect the accusations by "proving" trips that in fact did not happen. We really cannot know either way. Many people who have not been abused overestimate the ability to recall dates and such correctly in those circumstances. While it does indeed "cast some doubt" on the claims that is not the same as disproving them. – Kate Gregory Jan 18 '16 at 20:23
5

Is it ever appropriate to raise with HR that a colleague has made (subsequently disproved) accusations against colleagues in past workplaces?

Unless you have good reason to believe that the colleague was subsequently dismissed for that reason, then it is unlikely to be appropriate.

If there really was clear evidence that A lied, most companies would consider this gross misconduct and sufficient grounds for prompt dismissal. Trust is fundamental to an employment contract and having an untrustworthy employee is a massive liability. If that didn't happen, you should not be so sure that things happened quite how you think.

Internal investigations are not trials and, like it or not, usually only two or three people get to see all the evidence. There are usually two or three versions of events and piecing it together is rarely straightforward. Anyone else just gets as much of someone's side of the story as they need for the investigation to happen, so there is typically an expectation of confidentiality.

Even if what you think happened is that:

  • Employee A makes a complaint in bad faith; it is not upheld. Employee A leaves before any subsequent investigation. Rumours abound.

You don't know for sure that what really happened wasn't that:

  • Employee A makes a complaint in good faith; it is not upheld. Employee A feels unsupported, fears reprisals, and leaves. Rumours abound.

  • Employee A makes a complaint in good faith; is offered a settlement to go away (maybe the investigation was botched, maybe the business figured it was cheaper to pay off the employee than train their managers or fix their culture problem); from the inside it looks like the managers were exonerated. Rumours abound.

The problem is that you're relying on hearsay (and considering passing it on). Even if you believe it, HR couldn't responsibly act on it: your employer would be foolish to take it at face value and is not realistically capable of fairly investigating it, as they don't have access to the relevant witnesses etc. Depending on who you talk to about this (and how HR responds), you risk tainting the investigation with allegations which A cannot defend themselves against.

Finally, unless there's a very good reason for you to have access to the full conclusion of the investigation (e.g. because your team was explicitly told by a senior manager that "A was fired for lying"), then it may actually raise questions about your own integrity, motivations and evidence.

  • It's nice that you worry about employee A, but there's also employee X, whose career might get damaged significantly with no fault of his own. The same comment "it may actually raise questions about your own integrity, motivations and evidence" applies equally when the situation is the other way round, so if you have seen X bullying A then you should also keep your mouth shut, right? – gnasher729 Jan 19 '16 at 9:25
  • @gnasher729: I don't think that's what user52889 is saying at all. He's saying that unless you are absolutely sure it's best to keep quiet about what went on at the other workplace. Obviously, if you've seen X bullying A then you should report it to HR regardless of if A has or not. – NotMe Jan 19 '16 at 15:37
  • @gnasher729: both employees have the right to a fair process, and it is not up to us or the OP to determine whether the allegations are true or not, or second-guess how the business might respond if they are. Because there is no way the business can legitimately use this information, bringing it up is unlikely actually to help X. If, however, you are a witness to any of the alleged events, or know of relevant evidence that HR can legitimately use in an investigation, that's a totally different situation. – user52889 Jan 19 '16 at 19:58
  • @user52889, No, that information could be extremely valuable to the business, if only to be super careful about the selection of the next manager who's going to work on top of that employee, and making sure that witnesses are present at all times during the HR interaction with that employee. – Stephan Branczyk May 19 '17 at 7:27
0

Did HR tell you that Employee A was accusing Manager X?

If not, then you should not say anything at all.

If they did tell you, did they ask you about Employee A?

If they did not ask, then they do not care about your impression of Employee A, even at your current company, and they will be even less interested in your impression of Employee A at your old company.

If, however, they did ask you about Employee A, you could simply ask them if they want your observations limited to only your current company, or did they want your observations to include time at the prior company as well?

This puts the decision 100% in their hands and does not appear as if you are trying to get involved in things that are not your business.

0

I would tell them, and then let HR/management make of the information what they will.

It obviously affects how someone would view the claim, so for Manager X's sake I think that you should say something.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.