Workplace gossip is often harmless and goes away as quickly as it began. However, some claims made by employees run the risk of ruining an employer’s career and the reputation of a business. Whether an accusation is made about an employer or another co-worker, it must be thoroughly investigated and approached with great caution. It is also important for employers to handle the situation correctly when an employee makes accusations that are later proven to be false.
Addressing a False Accusation
A false accusation will often take you by surprise and you may not know how to best approach the problem. First, it is important to document all details of the claim as soon as it is brought to your attention. Write down the date, the time, any witnesses, and a description of the incident.
There will likely be an investigation process to determine the authenticity of the accusation. It is important to fully cooperate with the investigative process every step of the way. If the accusation is against you, a third-party may be brought in to investigate the issue. If an employee makes a false accusation against another employee or an individual in management, you may be responsible for leading or participating in the investigation.
To prove that there was wrongdoing, the accuser will need to present some type of evidence that backs up the story. As an employer, you can also collect or provide evidence to discredit the dishonest employee. Supporting evidence may be found in the form of emails, text messages, voicemails, or other hard evidence.
False Accusations and At-Will Employment
In Arizona, employment-at-will applies to all employees. When an employee accepts an at-will position, he or she is not guaranteed to stay on the job for any amount of time. The employee has the right to quit at any time and for any reason, and the employer has the right to terminate the employee at any time and for any reason with the exception of legally covered protections, such as discrimination.
If an employee is found to have made a false accusation, an employer is entitled to terminate the employee based on the accusation. Even if an employer is unable to determine if the accusation made was actually false, employment can still be terminated at any time and no reason has to be given. An employer is not legally required to conduct a thorough investigation before terminating an employee or conduct any type of investigation at all.
Unless an employer violates the terms of an employee handbook or employment contract, or uses a false accusation to cover up an illegal reason for the termination, there is no law that prevents an employer from terminating an employee based on false accusations. Even if an employee sees the decision as unfair or unethical, it does not necessarily make it illegal.
Defamation and False Accusations
Cornell Law School defines defamation as a statement that injures a person’s reputation, such as slander (spoken statements) or libel (written statements). If an employee makes a false statement about an employer that damages the person’s career or reputation, the employer could sue the employee for defamation.
The problem lies with how an employer approaches a claim of defamation. Employers must avoid retaliation when suing an employee for defamation. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) describes the protection given to employees from employer retaliation when engaging in certain activities, such as posting employer reviews online or posts on social media.
An employer must also ensure that he or she has a non-discriminatory basis for filing a defamation suit against an employee. Employers should not file an internet-related defamation lawsuit if that action could be considered an unlawful and impermissible act of retaliation.
Handling False Claims from Employees
Each situation is different and how an employer handles a false accusation made by an employee will typically depend on the seriousness of the accusation and whether or not the employee has made poor decisions in the past. A false accusation does not necessarily need to result in the termination of the employee if the employee comes clean and shows remorse for his or her actions. However, it is ultimately the decision of the employer on how to handle the situation.
If a false accusation made by an employer threatens you or the business as a whole, it is important to respond swiftly and appropriately to the claim. Speak with a qualified employment law attorney for guidance on how to best handle the situation and avoid any legal repercussions that could result from your actions. Contact the legal experts at JacksonWhite Law today to learn more.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.
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