The stress of the wrongly accused

All work is stressful but by educating ourselves and with the support of colleagues and a strong and healthy professional association, it should be possible to function safely.  That is the ideal but reality often seems to fall short.

Recently I was contacted by a person who had heard me speak about workplace bullying and wanted to know what they could do as they have been accused of being a bully.  I contacted the person’s professional association who advised that they have no processes for dealing with those accused of bullying, only victims.  There were few options for the person other than seeking legal advice.

This experience reminded me of how damaging and stressful it can be to be under investigation, regardless of whether the action is justified.

Yesterday I visited a colleague and friend of mine who is recovering from a heart attack.  He is in the high risk category for heart attacks – male, fifty, and possibly overweight.  But he is also under a high-profile investigation by his own professional association into his professional conduct.

Some time ago, I was subject to an ethics issue in one of my own professional associations.  The accusation was found to be frivolous and unwarranted but the period of the complaint was one of the most stressful periods of my professional career.  I could not sleep.  I doubted my judgement.  The stress was compounded by my conviction that the documented grievance procedure was not followed by the very organization who wrote it.

After a couple of months I was told that the matter was dropped but received no apology and no explanation.

Investigations are stressful but when grievance procedures are not followed, the stress is substantially increased by the feeling of injustice.

In much of the discussion on mental health in the workplace, there is little attention given to the stress associated with investigations into professional conduct but we know that a poorly administered grievance procedure does no one any good.

This is not to diminish the impact on a victim of  inappropriate actions but this, arguably, secondary area of professionalism and mental health needs consideration. 

There are similarities in this area to research into the pressures on companies and managers from workplace fatalities, the secondary impacts of work-related suicides, grief and bereavement.  Trauma, depression, stress and grief do not discriminate and everyone  is affected by unsafe practices, disrespect and inappropriate behaviours including, sometimes, the accused themselves.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

2 thoughts on “The stress of the wrongly accused”

  1. I don\’t think it is WorkSafe\’s perspective but more an OHS duty-of-care issue. The new harmonised Work Health and Safety legislation has a more overt inclusion of volunteers.

    I think WorkSafe would expect any organisation to follow their own grievance procedures or codes of conduct or the issue resolution obligations in the OHS regulations, and work from there.

    If an organisation does not follow its own procedures and generates a hazard, physical or psychosocial, it could be argued that OHS laws have been broken. It would certainly be in a weak position if legal action were to be taken by the individual. Whenever any organisation sets its own policies and rules, it is a reasonable expectation that the makers of the rules will also comply.

  2. Hi Kevin, you raise some good points. Isn\’t a volunteer, even of a not-for-profit organisation considered an employee from WorkSafe\’s perspective? So therefore if an organisation creates stress for a volunteer, they are also guilty under the OHS laws. What about innocent until proved guilty as well!
    Sheryl Dell

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