Malicious allegations at work
Although the vast majority of workplace relationships experience the highs and lows of any normal working relationship; at times matters can escalate and individuals can make malicious allegations against colleagues.
This can be a particularly stressful time for employers and managers who often struggle to know which direction to take to ensure all parties feel heard and are dealt with fairly.
These types of incidences only highlight the need for strong internal processes to fall back on. False and malicious accusations can have serious repercussions for the accused and can place them under extreme stress.
The first step would be to refer to any internal policy in place as this will provide a set process to follow which should follow the ACAS Code of Practice.
If allegations are found to be malicious it should be made clear within internal policies that this can be considered an act of misconduct. An employer needs to tread carefully before making a decision to discipline as the complainant may have held a valid belief/grounds for the complaint. A distinction needs to be made between a false allegation and a false allegation made with malicious intent.
Before making any decision, the employer must investigate complaints raised however it is critical that this is approached in an unbiased way reviewing evidence that can also support the accused to avoid allegations of an unfair investigation process. Even if you suspect the complaint has been made in bad faith, you are still under a duty to investigate the matter as you would with any other grievance.
You must also consider whether the complaint falls within the definition of whistleblowing as a qualifying complaint will grant the individual protection from less favourable treatment and dismissal on this basis.
Dealing with a malicious complainant
If you are satisfied that the compliant made is vexatious and made with malicious intentions what you do next will depend on the facts.
If you have evidence that clearly demonstrates a deliberate intention to harm another person that could be seen as a deliberate attempt to mislead or cause harm to another, then you should consider whether disciplinary sanctions are appropriate. In some cases, a finding of malicious intent may warrant summary dismissal.
Disciplining a malicious complainant
A failure to commence disciplinary action can have a negative impact upon morale if perpetrators appear to get away with actions with clear malicious intent. The victim of false allegations can often complain about being subjected to malicious harassment and should be encouraged to use the grievance process themselves. It is important to fully utilise internal processes and procedures to ensure each step is correctly captured and documented. It can be tempting for employers to try and deal with matters informally hoping for a fast resolution however when dealing with serious allegations a formal process should always be used.
An individual who makes false and malicious allegations will also be acting in breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence between the parties and therefore many employers will want to impose a sanction such as termination however you must ensure a fair disciplinary process is followed to allow them to defend themselves against any accusations of malicious intent.
In the cases where there is no clear evidence to support the notion the complainant acted with malicious intent, it is important to consider that even if a complainant made an allegation in bad faith, they could claim they are being victimised for raising a complaint. It is therefore critical to look at all facts and circumstances before making a decision to discipline and/or dismiss.
The critical aspect of dealing with any type of allegation raised is the importance of a fair and balanced investigation.
Even if matters seem obvious and straightforward a thorough investigation will ensure that you have covered all points and if matters to progress to litigation a tribunal will look to see what investigation was undertaken.
Important points to note when investigating:
- Be balanced and look at both sides.
- Look at mitigating factors.
- Consider the motivations and underlying reasons for the complaint.
- Ensure processes are captured and clearly documented.
If you would like any advice or assistance with investigations or in dealing with a potential malicious allegation, then we can help.