How do I defend myself against false claims of harassment and stalking by an employee?

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How do I defend myself against false claims of harassment and stalking by an employee?

I am a manager of a psychiatric residential
program. One of my employees has ongoing
performance and attendance problems. I have
written her up for watching tv on her phone and
misuse of company time, as she has gone
missing during work hours and arrives late
several times a week. In addressing some of
these problems with HR, the employee
reported she is being ‘harassed’ and ‘stalked’
by me. This is ludicrous, but it causes me
serious anxiety at the same time. I was told by
HR not to talk to her until they can meet with
her in 2 weeks. In that time, she has been
blatantly rude and dismissive toward me in
front of other employees and clients. I initially
wanted to write her up for several performance
issues and insubordination, but now, I just have
to work with her every day and allow her to
rudely defy my authority. I am especially
concerned about my reputation, as this has
been allowed to play out openly at work.

Asked on June 17, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

To are large degree, you *can't* protect yourself unless you have a written employment contract or union agreement which guarantees you certain rights in regard to discipline or allegation; if you do have such a contract, it is legally enforceable (e.g. in court, by a lawsuit for "breach of contract," if necessary) and they cannot take action against you in violation of it. But without a contract, you are an employee at will, and you may suffer discipline (up to and including termination) for any reason, including unproven, or even false, accusations. Basically, without a contract, you have no rights at or to your job. What you are doing in terms of documentation, explanation, etc. make sense and may help, but do not guaranty any protection to you.
You could sue the employee making false factual allegations for defamation if you do suffer any adverse consequences: people are not allowed to make false factual statements or assertions about others which damage those others' reputations. If these are indeed false factual claims (e.g. that you did or said something, when you provably did not), that may be defamation. (Note that opinions, however, are not defamation and you can't sue over them--e.g. she can state that you have been "mean" to her, and since that is a matter of opinion, you cannot do anything about it.)


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