Dealing with False Accusations in the Workplace
As an employer, you are under a duty by law to deal with any complaints or grievances fairly and transparently. This though, can become more difficult if you suspect the employee has made a false accusation.
It may be difficult to distinguish between a complaint that is clearly untrue or false and one that the employee genuinely believes is true. For this reason, it is important that you conduct a thorough investigation procedure into any complaint. This will help avoid potential employment tribunal claims for failing to follow procedures, or even discrimination claims in some cases.
Carry Out a Fair Investigation for False Accusations
It is paramount that employers carry out investigation procedures using the company grievance procedures or working to ACAS guidelines. These are to be followed irrespective of whether the employer thinks the complaint is true or untrue.
The grievance procedure should involve an investigation of the complaint which involves a fact-finding exercise.
Any witnesses will be interviewed on an individual basis. Statements taken as part of the investigation later will form a key part of the report. It is important that when taking down any witness statements you make sure any notes taken are agreed with any witness and they are given the opportunity to amend as necessary.
When it comes to the hearing itself it is good practice to appoint someone who has not been involved in the grievance prior to appointment. Furthermore, it is vital to maintain confidentiality while gathering any evidence. It is also essential to work to any timetable and deadlines set.
The person facing false accusations should be notified of these and given the opportunity to prepare their defence.
The investigation should look at:-
- Evidence of the person making allegations;
- Witness evidence that can corroborate the complaint;
- Evidence of the person accused in defence;
- Any history between the complainant and the alleged perpetrator;
- Whether mediation may help resolve the issue.
It is important to take comprehensive minutes of any meetings, agreed upon by all the parties.
Reaching a Decision
A report should be compiled that contains all the witness statements and any other evidence. This should summarise all the evidence and conclude with findings that determine whether a complaint was true or false. It should also include any evidence that may have led the accuser to genuinely believe the complaint was true.
On the other hand, if there is any evidence to prove that the accuser knew the complaint was untrue, those are to be included as well. In such a scenario, it is likely the employer would need to take disciplinary action against the accuser.
Additionally, if the complaint is false, the employee complained about may wish to want to raise a grievance.
Disciplinary Action Against the Accuser
If an employer has found that an employee has made false allegations, they may want to take disciplinary action against them.
Employees need to be provided with details of the outcome of the investigation and given the opportunity to prepare their defence at a hearing. It is always important to bear in mind the risk of failing to follow a fair procedure before any decision to dismiss.
Additionally, it is important to look at mitigating circumstances, including the employee’s state of mind, past employment record or length of service, before moving to dismiss. Once again, the employee may have a case for ordinary unfair dismissal or possibly automatic unfair dismissal where, for instance, discrimination may be shown.
In this process, if an employer concludes that the employee’s behaviour in making a false allegation amounted to gross misconduct, they will need strong evidence of this. If not, the employee could take a case against the employer for constructive unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.
Potential Pitfalls During False Accusation Investigation
Facing an unfair dismissal claim is the first and most important risk to keep in mind when dealing with such complaints. This is why a fair and transparent process needs to be followed throughout the investigation. Here’s how employers can do that –
- Make sure the employee is given all the relevant evidence well in advance of the investigation meeting
- Check if the complaint is compliant with PIDA
- Warn employees of the possibility of disciplinary action if complaints unfounded
- Review all evidence well
- Use different members of staff to oversee grievances and carry out any appeal
- Ensure grievance procedure is followed correctly and thoroughly
- Keep accurate records
- Avoid unnecessary delays dealing with grievance