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Like it or not, workplace disagreements and/or injustices are going to happen. It’s likely you’ve already been in a situation where something went wrong, and a coworker unfairly blamed you.

From my experience, this often happens so fast that the person being falsely accused is caught off guard, resulting in them saying and doing things to defend their integrity. Things get emotional, and often heated.

No matter the issue in question, it’s always better to step away from the situation and evaluate your response rather than react. Why? Because saying things in the heat of the moment could cause even more damage to your credibility.

If you’re ever falsely accused at work, here’s what to do.

  1. State The Facts Only.
    It’s always important to answer the accusation with the truth right away. Own what you can about the problem. Admit if you could have been more direct, asked better questions, or followed up faster. Then, be willing to jump in and help solve the problem. Too often people get so concerned about who’s to blame that they lose sight of the problem at hand. Once the matter is resolved or corrected, you can come back and work on what fell through the cracks without pointing fingers, with the ultimate goal of coming together.
  2. Find Reliable Council.
    Running to HR should rarely be your first or best choice. Try and resolve the issue within your work group first. If that doesn’t work, find out if your organization offers a service called “Employee Assistance” (many larger companies offer it). This group is made up of professionals hired to give untainted council. Since they are not employees of the organization, what you say to them is confidential. They are there to help you think through the problem and give you an objective viewpoint others can’t. Now, if the situation at hand is a serious violation, you might need to consult an attorney. If you are dealing with a matter of legal impact, you want an expert in that field providing input. Together, identify what results you want, and keep your emotions in check, considering the long-term effect of your actions and goals.
  3. Surround Yourself With Support.
    Nothing hurts worse than being falsely accused. Depending on the situation, you might not find comfort or support from your teammates. Getting outside support from family or friends might be just want you need. They are removed from the situation, and if you tell them you just need someone to listen, they will oblige. Note – you are not asking for advice here, but rather someone to help you process emotions and decisions.
  4. Create a Prevention Plan.
    Once you get through this issue, don’t let it drift out of sight until you have addressed how it happened in the first place. Develop an agreement on how you and coworkers will handle and avoid issues like this in the future. Create a guideline, process or policy to save you from the repeating a time-consuming and emotionally draining experience!