Exodus 20:16 states, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” as one of The Ten Commandments. But it happens all the time and chances are it’s happened to you. Here are a few tips to help you deter and deal with this heinous act.
Get rid of the anonymous tip line. This is an open invitation for anyone to say anything about anyone without any proof. The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him." Shouldn’t this critical right extend to our civil environment? While you may not spend time in jail, you can lose your livelihood and your reputation with the slip of a tongue.
Leaders need to recognize the potential for utter destruction to individuals and whole organizations based upon anonymous tips. The bottom line is that if you have to rely on anonymous sources to find out that something bad is going on in your organization you need to fire all your supervisors, and then fire yourself for having them there in the first place.
I once disciplined two individuals with two-day suspensions for looking at pornography on their government computers. As you can tell from the minimal punishment, this was years ago before this offense was grounds for immediate termination. An anonymous complaint was subsequently lodged against me for fraternization. The case was investigated and no evidence was found. It was well known who was behind the complaint and that it was an act of retribution. Time lost, money wasted, and character assassinated based on a vendetta.
Ensure all allegations have been validated through the chain of command and dealt with at the appropriate level. I have had many issues brought to my attention that skipped levels of the chain. When this occurred, I would tell the accuser that I was going to call the accused into my office so that they could be made aware of the allegations. In each of these instances the accuser recanted immediately.
Where there’s no smoke, there’s no fire. If an accuser wishes to pursue I tell them I will investigate and that I need their documentation or any other proof of the allegation. If they had none and they wished to pursue investigation, I would tell them that if the allegations came back unfounded, they would be punished accordingly for lying, slander, or libel. This action is actually rooted in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, chapter 19:18-19: “And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you.”
As a young officer, I had an enlistee come to me with allegations against one of my senior NCOs. It was well known that the accuser was not willing to comply with their duties in the unit. I acknowledged that it was my duty to investigate these various serious allegations but that, based on the fact that no proof was brought forward with the allegation, if I found no wrong doing on the Senior NCO’s part, I would pursue action against the airman for false allegations. The accuser recanted everything.
Retribution is a dead-end street. The best thing to do when faced with a false witness is to do nothing. Since the allegation is false, it is motivated by insecurity, rage, jealousy, or narcissism. Your reputation and actions are the best prevention and vindication in these situations. This will also be the critical time to watch what your chain of command does. If they investigate to see if there is proof to back up the allegations versus proof to warrant an investigation in the first place, you need to leave this organization. If they take unfounded allegations without any proof and ring the investigation bell, the damage is already done. Your character has been shot, and it will never be the same, even if you are completely exonerated. This is why I follow the investigation advice in Deuteronomy.
Justice is the Lord’s, not yours, and He can do it far better than you can. So don’t even worry about it. The only court you should ever plead your case to is the higher courts. There are numerous times where I could have sued organizations and probably never had to work again. But for what? It does nothing to fix the organization that allowed it to happen in the first place and is a devastating drain on you emotionally, financially, and professionally.
Keep your conscience clean and don’t return in kind. When I was in these situations I took it as a call from God to move on to the next challenge. This horrible event (and believe me, I know how horrible this situation can be) is happening for me, not to me. Call it karma, call it guardian angels, call it the wrath of God, I have personally witnessed what happens to false witnesses in my life and it is far worse than any action I could have taken against them.
Twice I have had false witnesses come against me in an attempt to force me out of an organization and twice I left of my own free will for better opportunities. Both of these organizations were closed within five years of my departures. I’m not saying it has anything to do with me specifically, but rather that evil begets evil, and it does eventually catch up.
If people received life sentences for character assassination the world would be a much more respectful and truthful place. In this age of global gossip and uncivil discourse it is critical that we maintain the highest degree of integrity and accountability and ensure that it is a committed part of our organization’s culture.
One thing is clear: you have had an eventful life, Tracey! What a great post topic. We do live in an age of rumor and innuendo and casual character assassination. And it often seems as if people are more disposed to believe rumors these days, rather than giving others the benefit of the doubt.
I’ve often thought about the high price of seeking retribution. I can understand the rage that drives it, wanting to somehow get even with those who have wronged you. But you’re right, it never seems to work: you wind up just as sullied and dirty as your enemies.
I also liked your point about knowing when to leave. You can’t function effectively in the absence of trust. If your company is willing to take accusations at face value, you know you’re working for someone who doesn’t respect its employees. Why hang around when you can only expect more of the same?
Excellent post, many thanks!!