What do I do after being accused of criminal activity at work?
May 6, 2014 6:08 PM   Subscribe

What do I do after being accused of criminal activity at work? Thank god I was able to prove my innocence. All fake names.

I've worked at this company for 15 years. Started as a temp, now sort of an office/operations manager. I've tried to be brief, sorry about the length.

About a year ago, with permission, I bought art for our conference room at work (on my own time & with the corporate credit card). I also bought a piece for myself, using my personal credit card. I hung my art behind my desk at work.

About 6 months ago my company hired a guy named Mike and he started working out of our office. He's higher up on the ladder than me, but I don't report to him or work for him in any way.

About a week ago I came in and the art was no longer behind my desk; it was hanging in a common area. I figured that the building staff must've moved it so I moved it back.

The next day Mike asked me why I had moved the art back behind my desk. I explained that it was a personal purchase of mine.

Yesterday morning I was called into my boss's office and Mike was there. He had gone through our corporate credit card records and found that a piece of art matching the description of my art was purchased with the corporate credit card. He was accusing me of lying, and of using the corporate credit card for personal use. I explained that I'd have to look at the credit card receipts, but my guess was that a piece of art from the conference room was the one he was seeing because they were similar, but not exact.

I went to my desk to check my physical copies of receipts and fortunately I'd filed my personal receipt with the receipts from the work art. There was still a sticker on the back of my art and the UPC matched exactly with the receipt from my personal credit card so I had 100% proof that it was mine.

But he went on! He asked what I was doing in my coworker Amy's desk a few days prior. He had seen me use a key to open her drawer and remove something. I have keys to everyone's desks; that isn't a secret. At this point I looked at my boss in disbelief and she looked a little embarrassed. I told them I would forward the email from Amy asking me to open her drawer, grab her flash drive and email her something while she was working remotely.

He had one more. He had seen me go to Mary's desk, pick up a piece of mail and open it, start to pull out what looked like a check, and then return to my desk with the mail. At this point I was utterly furious. That scenario is something that happens all the time. Mary is one of a few people in the office who receives checks, and she asks me to let her know every time she receives mail if she's not in the office. Occasionally if she's expecting something specific she'll ask me to open the mail, & if it's from Joe Bob or whoever, I should take the check and forward it for processing and let her know. I also log all these checks as required. So I had proof in the form of an email from Mary that specifically asked me to do that, and I had the check log which I had already filled out & dated, and I had fedex tracking from when I mailed the check. I provided those to my boss and Mike.

During this whole conversation, Mike was ice cold, accusatory, and rude. He never inquired politely, he sneered, demanded answers, and barked out accusations. ("Where's that check you took from Mary?") The end of the conversation was basically "well ok, I guess we're done here." I don't think so.

Mike clearly got pissy about the art & then basically watched my every move for a week. That's creepy as hell. I asked my boss what she was going to do, and she asked me what I wanted her to do. Mike has a totally different chain of command than we do.

What can or should I expect here? What should I do? I sort of want him fired - is that reasonable? He's higher up than my own boss.

People know this meeting happened, and they are looking at me weird. I feel like there's a cloud of suspicion around me but I'm 100% innocent of any wrongdoing. I'm so embarrassed. Should/can I ask for a public (in front of the office) apology from Mike?

I'm already looking for jobs. Market is brutal, no interviews yet & I don't expect to find anything soon.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (56 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Oh god, I'd just drop this, particularly since you have the support of your boss and he's not in your report/authority stream.

Here's what probably happened: Mike was embarrassed you proved him wrong about the artwork, so he dealt with that loss of face (as many people do) by doubling down and trying to prove you had been sketchy in OTHER ways, hence the ridiculous stories about activities conducted with the knowledge of those co-workers "targeted." If he weren't new to the office, he would have known these actions weren't what they looked like (and to be generous, they may have looked "bad" without the backstories behind them).

Remember--he's the one who lost face, not you. Your boss is basically asking you to drop it and focus on your own work, which apparently doesn't involve him directly. The only way you lose here is if you create drama that actually would make you look bad (unlike the false accusations you defended yourself from thoroughly, that only embarrassed him).

Document it for yourself and move on. Feel sorry for him. At most, I'd let off some steam not at the office by letting an ally of yours know what happened, for support, and so this individual can explain the situation to others if it comes up.
posted by blue suede stockings at 6:19 PM on May 6, 2014 [29 favorites]

I think you should pat yourself on the back for covering your ass very well, and then drop it. Unfortunately higher-ups are allowed to be assholes when they're doing things they're allowed to do.
posted by bleep at 6:24 PM on May 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

You've been there a long time, you're known to be a solid employee, and you proved you did nothing wrong. I would do nothing and wait for Mike to implode and get himself fired for some other sort of erratic behavior. I'd bet it's coming inside a year.
posted by something something at 6:25 PM on May 6, 2014 [67 favorites]

Don't be afraid to stay if you are otherwise happy where you are. You have been there 15 years and worked your way up. You may have an administrative title, but 15 years of loyal service makes you a giant.

Mike has been there six months, and in this short time has proven himself (to you, your boss, and who knows who else) as a hotheaded bully who jumps to conclusions. Mike might be senior, but in the scheme of things, Mike is a pipsqueak.

Hold your head high. You were right all along and have the power to move on gracefully. Know you have your manager's support. I predict Mike will either learn his lesson or make someone else angry and disappear within another six months.
posted by mochapickle at 6:27 PM on May 6, 2014 [32 favorites]

And if it helps, I give you permission to whisper "Mike is a pipsqueak" every time you see him in the parking lot.
posted by mochapickle at 6:29 PM on May 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

Slander is not only illegal, but criminal. And I'm just the kind of hothead who would try to put this asshole on the street, living in his car.
But you aren't. Listen to the green. I admire the restraint of every previous answer.
posted by LonnieK at 6:30 PM on May 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

Oh wow drop it. Drop it like Snoop's next album. Drop it like a hot potato. Drop it like some other analogy that I can't think of right now.

Mike is now a Known Asshole. You have already won every fight you will ever have with him, either because A) he knows not to pick on you, or B) everyone will remember how much of an asshole he was that one time about the stupid painting. There is no cloud of suspicion around you, except from Mike, and he cannot make clouds anymore.

Sure, look for other jobs, but don't take one just because you think your workplace is now a bad place. It isn't. It has one bad thing in it, and you know that bad thing and can avoid it.
posted by Etrigan at 6:32 PM on May 6, 2014 [18 favorites]

Also, by letting it go, you will demonstrate to your boss and everyone else that you are not willing to stoop to Mike's level. Worrying about this or explaining it to coworkers WILL come back to haunt you. You are a professional and above this pettiness.
posted by mochapickle at 6:36 PM on May 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

Awful situation, but great job of writing this out and keeping a record. I've known several innocent folks accused of wrongdoing in my career...those that don't press it or create drama do the best with it. I strongly suggest you not go down the road of trying to get him fired. In fact, just the opposite...try to let go of the resentment. Sounds like you have that strength.
posted by artdrectr at 6:37 PM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you ask for a written summary of the meeting, complete with 'questions' and outcomes, from your boss? Because document, document.
posted by Dashy at 6:38 PM on May 6, 2014 [105 favorites]

you've done a good job so far. a memorandum to your boss on the record that mike falsely accused you of a crime, and stole your artwork, and you hope that it will not be necessary to take legal action.

mike is your enemy. google the shit out of him, pull a background report, find out everything you can, because information is power, none of us are saints and a guy like this has something you can get him on.
posted by bruce at 6:39 PM on May 6, 2014 [10 favorites]

As others have suggested, I don't think you should pursue this ... other than for documenting it. Here is how I would go about it:

I would write an email to my boss stating something like,

Boss, I don't want to pursue this issue, but feel that I must protect myself. So, while the incident is fresh in my mind, I wanted to write it down and ask you to confirm by return email that I remembered correctly.

... then proceed to write a factual description, similar to what you wrote in your post.
posted by aroberge at 6:40 PM on May 6, 2014 [61 favorites]

A forced public apology would be inappropriate because it would amplify and extend the drama.

Mike lost his cool after you were able to prove the art was yours because he saw the damage that was coming to his reputation. He started a lone-wolf investigation of a tenured and trusted employee, and he got everything wrong. He fucked himself hard.

I don't fault you for looking for a new job, though I would only do so if you can find someplace that's better for you overall; not just a Mike-free office.
posted by grudgebgon at 6:44 PM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would insist on an apology, with Mike's boss present, and a meeting with HR rep, possible counselling for Mike.. Mention that it could be considered sexual harassment and watch them jump into action.

Don't do it just for yourself, do it for everyone else he is harassing (and he is, I guarantee it).
posted by smoke at 6:46 PM on May 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm just here to n-th the suggestion to document the outcome. I'd like to get something from your boss and I think Dashy's comment above is right on the money. Nothing inflammatory, no threats - just plain documentation of what happened and the outcome, a copy of which goes into your HR file (and, hopefully, Mike's) and a copy that you keep - just in case something comes up.
posted by ninazer0 at 6:49 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, I would refrain from any actions that would be likely to result in HR or counsel being brought into the discussion at your behest. Many HR departments exist to protect the company and little more. If your reaction to the incident transforms you into a threat to the company, their response might be unfavorable.
posted by grudgebgon at 6:51 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also if Mike is snooping around your desk deciding where art should go (which I assume is not what he is paid to do), he may be snooping around inside it, too.

Make sure you lock it all the time and that all your personal items are inside if you aren't with them.
posted by winna at 6:56 PM on May 6, 2014 [35 favorites]

What Dashy said: ask your boss, the one who was there and uncomfortable, for a summary of the meeting to go into your file. Write it up yourself: Anon was asked to produce personal receipt for purchase of artwork hanging in Anon's office, to verify that it is hers, since it was purchased concurrently with artwork belonging to Office. Anon did so; and the artwork "Title" is Anon's personal property. Anon was asked to forward the email demonstrating the she unlocked Amy's desk at Amy's request. Anon did so; the email showed Amy had requested Anon open her locked desk. Anon was asked to produce the log for check #XX from Client. Anon produced the log, which showed that check #XX from Client had been properly logged.

Have your boss sign it, copy it, then add it to your personnel file.

Then drop this like the bad scene that it is. You are vindicated. Mike will dig another hole or he'll get over himself. Everyone else will get over the weirdness as long as you and your boss are square.

Maybe apologize to Amy and Mary (you know that you have nothing to apologize to them for; they know you have nothing to apologize to them for) because it allows you all to acknowledge how weird that was without them having to bring it up (in case they don't know the outcome of the meeting--they may be afraid they've gotten you in trouble--so you apologize by saying "Gosh, Amy, I'm sorry for forwarding your email, but I wanted to show that you were aware I was unlocking your desk. I hope it did not inconvenience you." "Mary, I hope you did not run into any issues with that check. I logged it as usual, but there was some confusion." then they know everything is fine).

Keep looking for a new job, but don't look for an apology. Jerk bosses never make them.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:58 PM on May 6, 2014 [24 favorites]

Actually, Mike did two of the very things he accused you of: he stole something (your painting) and invaded your personal space to do it.

And, he made false accusations which he could only have made by taking quite a bit of time away from his own work to observe you closely enough in order to be able to make.

I think you should ask your supervisor to write up an email to be sent to your group detailing what happened at the meeting on the grounds that rumors about what happened could damage your reputation; but before you do that, you should compose the email yourself the way some students write their own recommendations at the behest of their professors.

THEN, you should request a meeting with Mike, his boss, and your boss as a witness. In that meeting you should detail what happened so that everyone is working from the same version of the facts, say that you see Mike's behavior as clearly inappropriate in that it seems to bespeak some kind of weird personal animosity against you on his part, and request assurances that you won't have to deal with any such misbehavior in the future.
posted by jamjam at 6:59 PM on May 6, 2014 [15 favorites]

Oh, after getting a note in my file that it's my painting, I'd take it home. I'd leave nothing in the office I would be sorry to lose.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:01 PM on May 6, 2014 [28 favorites]

If your reaction to the incident transforms you into a threat to the company, their response might be unfavorable.

I've worked in HR; a case manager would practically always view Mike as the problem in this kind of situation, view Mike as the legal risk, view Mike as the danger to the company. Get this on HR's radar, and Mike's record. HR is about risk management, and Mike is the risk, not you.
posted by smoke at 7:09 PM on May 6, 2014 [16 favorites]

Drop it? Oh, hell no. I'm afraid these responses are coming from Mefites that have never worked with a "Mike". You need to document this with HR. Ask for a meeting, bring a written factual account of the interaction, and request that it be placed in your personnel file. Include all the copies of emails and receipts you provided initially. Request that HR verify your account with your manager. Be calm and professional, asking for nothing except that the factual account is noted AND corroborated.

None of this is your fault, Mike is an ass, and you will be doing your company a BIG favor by documenting this now for future action when he bullies someone else. Which he will, and there's a good chance he will do it in an illegal manner that leaves your company open to lawsuits. So that needs to be your default attitude. "Hey, this was not right, HR needs to be made aware, I am concerned as a long-term loyal employee, just doing my duty by passing it along."
posted by raisingsand at 7:29 PM on May 6, 2014 [30 favorites]

@smoke: Maybe I'm just cynical, but I sincerely doubt the competence of anon's HR organization. I know it's not a preponderance of evidence, but two managers collaborated to accuse an employee of criminal behavior, apparently without ever involving HR. I have trouble envisioning that happening in a well-run organization.

Similarly, anon notes that "people know this meeting happened", which tells me there is not an effective or professional HR group.
posted by grudgebgon at 7:40 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've worked (and still work) in HR and I have to agree with Smoke. Mike would be seen as the threat here, 100%. The fact that the two managers had the meeting without involving HR, is not HR's fault. They cannot be at meetings they don't know about, and trust me, so many people don't involve HR when they should, precisely because of opinions that HR always sucks.

The fact that others know this meeting happened also has nothing to do with HR. As an HR advisor if I found out that 1) this meeting had happened without HR there I'd be *pissed* and 2) I would make sure that everything was documented and things were kept confidential.

Don't forget, companies can be large and HR doesn't always know this things happen if we're not told.
posted by aclevername at 7:51 PM on May 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

In addition to documenting what happened with your boss, I would keep a personal record of any dealings you have with Mike in the future, just to cover your ass.
posted by annsunny at 7:58 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you have been there for 15 years, and this idiot has been there for 6 months, I would say, "I'm sorry, but after what has happened, I don't think I can work with Mike. Could you please reassign him or remove him?" I would push for removal, honestly. This guy is poison. Toxic people ruin workplaces. I have worked with them, and what happens is that you lose one good person after another, until finally the toxic person is removed.

They can pick you, or they can pick him. What happened here was a load of crap, and the fact that he hit you with not one, not two, but THREE accusations, and was allowed to do this, is ridiculous. He needs to leave, and immediately.

If he does not leave, you can bet that he is going to do this again. In the future, he will probably find something more concrete, since he screwed up royally this time. He may do something and frame you for it, or he may catch you in something, since nobody is 100% perfect. Either way, judging from your description of his reaction, he is only embarassed that he got caught, and he will definitely be after you again. This is a kill or be killed situation, and you need to strike while the iron is hot, and make it clear that you will not be working with him, and if management is smart, they will get rid of him now, before he does something worse.
posted by Slinga at 8:27 PM on May 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

I am saying all of this as a former HR person who has seen a lot of these scenarios play out. If I were your HR person, I would hope that Mike or his manager or your manager would have already come to me. However, if none of those people did, here are some possibilities that HR would have no power to assist you with.

1) Your boss may feel that you are attempting to rat her out to HR, and she may take that personally.

2) It will almost definitely get back to Mike that you are going to HR, which he will take as you attempting to get him into trouble or making a big deal out of nothing or some other bullshit that will retroactively justify his trying to get rid of you (in his mind, I mean, not in reality).

3) Mike's manager may not have been read into this at all and may start a war over this.

This is why I've said to drop it. Documenting it with your manager is a good idea, just to make sure that she is still on your side (though her having "looked a little embarrassed" at all this sounds like she already is, especially after you so thoroughly crushed Mike). But going to HR over this thing that your manager probably wants to believe belongs in the Resolved pile... that carries risks.
posted by Etrigan at 8:32 PM on May 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

At the very least, I would type in a recap going over the meeting, stressing, in exhaustive detail, the things that exonerate you and send it to your boss and Mike, explaining that you just want to confirm the outcome of the meeting.

I would attach your backup and end with "Mike, is there any thing else you need from me, or do you consider this matter closed?"
posted by spaltavian at 8:52 PM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

don't do what spaltavian said. Ugh. Don't ever talk to Mike again and definitely don't bring this up and DEFINITELY don't accept or express the notion that you owe him something here. Mike doesn't "need" anything from you; he's not your boss; he's a fool and a bully and a vindictive, evil minded turd. Stay away from him.

I would write this up for HR. I would first of all tell your manager you're doing so - you can just say "I was just falsely accused of some pretty bad stuff and I need to make a record of what happened here in case this ever comes up again." Tell her you're just documenting the weird event so she doesn't get the idea that you're complaining about her (although she sucks too! It was wildly inappropriate for her to facilitate Mike ambushing you and slandering you and you would be within your rights to complain.) But it would be impolitic so I wouldn't call her out on it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:08 PM on May 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would request a meeting with his boss and ask him to produce evidence he had permission to enter your workspace and remove your painting.

But I'm a bitch.

Seriously, though, document, and talk to HR if HR is even marginally competent. I'd probably say that I wanted to make sure to protect myself if there were further baseless and damaging accusations ... Just to get the baseless and damaging bit in their heads without having to say "He damaged me! Vendetta!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:17 PM on May 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you do that, then they just go to Mike and he just says "she was acting fishy and I was checking it out". You want tacit acknowledgement from Mike that the claims were baseless. Going to HR starts a lot of wheels in motion. A lot of new people will be involved then (Mike's boss, your boss's boss, etc), and then either Mike gets to explain the situation first, or best, it's a he said, she said. I'm not saying don't go to HR, I'm saying don't go to HR when it will trigger and investigation into you.

Your meeting where you "crushed" Mike didn't happen except to three people. Your e-mail proves it happened. You want the first impression of this incident to any newcomers to be your e-mail, not Mike's explanation. Believe me, if Mike isn't an idiot, he can still find a way to imply you were in the wrong and need further watching. He wasn't expecting you to be so well documented before; if this blows back on him, he'll try to sandbag before you even get wind of it. Not getting that e-mail out with Mike's name on it increases the odds that if there is another meeting about this, you'll be right back at square one, explaining how you are not a thief.
posted by spaltavian at 9:17 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

This needs to go on record with HR, absolutely.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:49 PM on May 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd tell my friends at work what happened so that they'd know that Mike's a jerk and a weirdo.
posted by agog at 9:49 PM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm with Slinga, I actually think Mike will be gunning for you harder than ever (sorry) simply because you made him look bad and he now has to prove himself right in the eyes of everyone else, even if it involves seetting you up to do so. I've worked with Mike's before and on one occasion, my Mike was my equal, tried to sabotage me, I had a paper trail that proved it to the higher ups and he got fired eventually. The second occasion, my Mike was my boss, set me up, there was no paper trail, and I got a warning for something he asked me to do then got told off for doing it! Then two years later he reshuffled projects so shockingly, my work didn't exist anymore and I got made redundant (I had planned to quit two days earlier and instead wound up with a large redundancy package - I actually did a happy dance!). Document, document, document. This probably isn't the end of it.
posted by Jubey at 10:15 PM on May 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

anonymous: "People know this meeting happened, and they are looking at me weird. I feel like there's a cloud of suspicion around me but I'm 100% innocent of any wrongdoing. I'm so embarrassed."

Ohhhhh, don't let Mike's sordid stunt get under your skin. I would seriously bet you actual cash money that 99.9% of your coworkers are not even remotely suspicious of you at all -- they're looking at you weird because they're curious and would dearly love to ask you WTF happened but feel awkward and don't want to offend or embarrass you by putting you on the spot.

If this happened to me, I'd tell a mostly-sanitized, technically "taking the high road" version to someone who will get the word around...being careful to say absolutely nothing that you wouldn't be comfortable saying calmly and politely in front of your boss and/or Mike. Though personally, I would also not be able to resist some judicious "draw your own conclusions" eyebrow-action and I think that's okay.

Absolutely get the meeting documented, including accusations, response, outcome -- either have your boss summarize it, or you summarize it (working together would be optimal, actually) and absolutely cc HR for the record.

Don't sell yourself short because of whatever class/rank issues are in play here. No-one works that hard to malign the office manager while working hard and succeeding at their actual job. That's a desperation move. Mike's attempt to play his privilege just utterly backfired and he exposed himself as a time-wasting dumbass, and I will eat my hat if he's still there in six months. Don't trust a thing that comes out of his mouth including an apology. Just be cool and polite and neutral in all of your very minimal interactions with him. You can look to see what other job options are out there if you like, but you actually have the upper hand for benefit of the doubt here, by far. Steady.
posted by desuetude at 12:37 AM on May 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

mike is your enemy. google the shit out of him, pull a background report, find out everything you can, because information is power, none of us are saints and a guy like this has something you can get him on.

Oh christ, don't do this. I've worked with people like this and they always end up getting fired. People hate busybodies.
posted by empath at 1:55 AM on May 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've got to agree with the folks saying Mike'll be so angry that he was wrong on all counts, that he'll try even harder to find (or manufacture!) something else.... sorry!

Besides getting this mess fully documented --- and that includes copies of your coworkers' emails about opening the desk and the check, as well as a statement from your boss detailing the meeting --- keep your own desk locked any time you're away from it (even if you just walk to the office coffee pot: lock it), and take that painting and any other personal property home. Rule of thumb: don't leave anything in the office (even inside your locked desk) that you wouldn't want to either lose or have made public.

As for Mike: don't confront him! Do the office version of the 'cut direct': don't talk to him, don't have anything at all to do with him that you can possibly avoid. and anytime work *requires* you to interact with him, document document document.
posted by easily confused at 2:36 AM on May 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can you ask for a written summary of the meeting, complete with 'questions' and outcomes, from your boss? Because document, document.

Ok just clicking like on this wasn't enough.

A couple years ago at my first real job in my field, a really stupid incident happened. I don't really need to get in to specifics, but basically i was instructed to do the wrong thing and didn't know any better at the time. Right then, there was a verbal communication several times to the effect of "So i did that because you told me to" "yep, it's totally fine i made a bad call" between me and the person directly above me.

Then, later there was a big "So, shit fucked up" sort of debriefing meeting. I had written a report right when it happened, but hadn't gotten a simple written confirmation from my direct boss at the time that yep, that was the canon path of events.

And now the story from my boss to the person above them was oh you just went off and did this, no one told you to do exactly that exactly like that and the whole thing had been twisted to be my fault. A lot of the vague setup of the situation was the same, but the minute details had been shifted around.

The meeting then turned into a lot like what was described here, where it was like being on the freaking witness stand and getting cross examined about all kinds of other shit... and i almost lost my job. If i had just had a damn email or something with my report of the situation and them going "Yep, thanks for sending that in, bla bla bla that's what happened" the entire conversation would have been moot.

I realize that's sort of reverse, but it would scare the shit out of me if this person was above my boss and now had a hard on about this situation. I would want confirmation from my boss on exactly how this went down ASAP. Because yea, it's fairly common for the lower in the food chain person to just get wishy washy when pushed in this sort of situation when someone above them pushes it more.

Document document document. Before you even do or think about doing anything discussed elsewhere in this thread, secure your record/proof that someone concurs with your version of the events.

It's way too easy for me to imagine a version of this where they find something else to be dumb about, and a new audience to do their song and dance routine too, and intro with the stuff you were already called out on and "how defensive you were about it" in a sort of jury-swaying "seed of doubt has been planted" way... but maybe i've just been involved in too many arts collective/theater/whatever type of catty organizations where that kind of thing happens way too much. It just seems like it's too easy for this to be over now, and that now they're pissed you made them look dumb and will come back with a new refined assault.
posted by emptythought at 3:01 AM on May 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

This needs to go on record with HR, absolutely

Yeah, it's tough to fire people.

Somewhere down the line, someone is going to want to fire Mike. The more crap there is in the file the easier it will be when that person has to make a case for legal to approve it, if it's that sort of company. In my company you basically have to prove that the person has been proven to not actually be human but to be an evil fish demon in a human suit and furthermore can't use email because he actually has fins, so if you get this documented and inserted into his file you can rest in the knowledge that you have invested in his departure. And I would totally ask your boss to write it up. S/he doesn't seem to have been super helpful. If s/he doesn't do so within a few days, write it up yourself and ask for an emailed response to 'Is this an accurate representation of our May 2 meeting in your office with Mike the fish demon?'

Lastly, is there some advantage to Mike to getting you out of the picture? Like does he want someone else for that job or something? Why the fuck would he take an interest in your painting? Is he going around urinating in the corners or something, marking his territory?

Also, no freaking way would I take that painting home. It's yours. You put it in a place to give you pleasure. That poor painting has earned its place.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:29 AM on May 7, 2014 [12 favorites]

Office dynamics aside, it might be a good idea to put a "property of" tag somewhere on the back of your painting.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:02 AM on May 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ask your boss to speak to Mike's boss. HR only as a last resort. Documentation you have a copy of is good; at a minimum come the lamented day Mike is in charge and instantly fires you (as he would) you'll have some thing you can show Unemployment to make sure you don't get denied benefits.
posted by MattD at 5:03 AM on May 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your boss has already proven they won't stand up for you unfortunately - that meeting was practically the textbook example of 'how not to investigate allegations of theft'. You boss should have heard Mike's allegations, thanked him for his concern, and spoken to you later in private. Mike should never have been in that room confronting you, and you should have had advanced warning and the opportunity to bring representation, etc. I would make a formal complaint about how it was handled, but that will involve your boss getting into trouble too (wouldn't stop me because I'd be furious with them as well as with Mike, but it might stop you).

I would look for another job, not because yours is at risk but because a) christ what a bunch of assholes, and b) you've been in this job 15yrs, time for a change/promotion anyway and maybe this can be the event that galvanises you - you might as well get something positive out of this.
posted by tinkletown at 6:35 AM on May 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

On re-reading this, one thing really strikes me: why is any of this any of Mike's business?!?

Even if you had hung a company-owned painting over your desk (the horror!) or were searching through your coworkers' desks without their knowledge, unless he's corporate security or loss prevention, what in the world is the justification this 6-month-employee offered for checking out the corporate credit card receipts from over a year ago (i.e., before he arrived), let alone his spying (yes: spying) on other employees? As you say, you don't work under him nor do you report to him in any way, so how does he justify his attacks?
posted by easily confused at 7:26 AM on May 7, 2014 [13 favorites]

On re-reading this, one thing really strikes me: why is any of this any of Mike's business?!?

My first reaction is, he wants to get OP fired and get one of his cronies the job.
posted by thelonius at 7:44 AM on May 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Right, Mike is either a psycho or an asshole, and either way, you do not want him around.
posted by Slinga at 7:54 AM on May 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Think long and hard about whether or not you want to leave. If it's time to move on, because you could make more money, learn new skills and have a better commute (or whatever) then look for job charming. Don't just jump at anything that looks good.

I'd have a conversation with your boss, if she's the kind of person you can level with, "I'm really disappointed in that meeting with Mike. If there were concerns I wish you would have brought them to me first, so that I could have provided you with the appropriate documentation and I would have been spared that nasty, nasty scene. I'm also concerned that there wasn't an HR representative in that meeting to insure that my rights weren't violated. Now I'm concerned that Mike is gunning for me, and frankly it makes me nervous. What exactly is going on here?"

I would, as others have said, insist on a full report and subsequent exoneration of the allegations, in writing.

Don't ask for an apology, public or not. Also, take the painting home, and clear all your personal stuff off of your desk. You're not going to make a public scene, but you are going to make a passive aggressive statement. (Well, it's what I would do.) If anyone asks you can say, "I don't want to be accused of theft, so I'm keeping my personal stuff at home, and my office stuff in the office."

Another thing to do would be to not do those favors for folks anymore. No more grabbing stuff off of desks or opening mail or any of that. If asked, simply say, "That won't be possible. Perhaps you can discuss with my manager."

You have right to be angry, in fact, now would be an excellent time to ask for a raise and promotion, because they've treated you shabbily and you've shown them that no only are you above reproach, you're a damn fine record keeper.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:00 AM on May 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

> That won't be possible. Perhaps you can discuss with my manager.

If I heard that, I would think that Anon had been reprimanded for getting into stuff and had been told not to touch other people's things.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:10 AM on May 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

If I heard that, I would think that Anon had been reprimanded for getting into stuff and had been told not to touch other people's things.

Yup, but it's a real pain in the ass, and frankly, I'd be the first one to cut off my nose to spite my face. I'm a real asshole though.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:23 AM on May 7, 2014

in writing.

Yes. An e-mail clearing you is not sufficient - get it in writing, signed, and take it home.

If you trust your company and the H.R. department, I would absolutely document both the accusation and his subsequent creepy behavior as harassment. If the company structure is such that you have a personal relationship with the executive team, I might go so far as to address it directly to them if Mike isn't shown the door.
posted by Candleman at 8:30 AM on May 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

In less than an hour, this guy destroyed 15 years of goodwill & trust that you'd built with your company. You've been embarrassed, and you really don't know who Mike talked to about you before his formal accusation.

The "nice" thing to do is drop it. The real thing to do is document, document, document. You need everything from the meeting typed out and signed by all involved. I would also seriously consider consulting a lawyer about your options and anything else anyone missed here so you're protected.

And last, I would be proactive about this. Could you send out a company email or address it in meetings that you will no longer go into anyone's desk? Or if they need you to go in there, you will only take emailed requests where you & a supervisor have been cc'd, and you and that supervisor (or anyone else as a second witness) can do it together?

It is horrible that you have to rearrange because of this jerk, but until he is gone, put policy in place to protect yourself going forward.
posted by haplesschild at 9:28 AM on May 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chiming to say please document and make a copy for yourself. Copy all the materials you had as proof as well - the email from your coworker asking for that favor, the receipt proving it's your painting, etc. I agree with haplesschild that it doesn't hurt to talk to a lawyer.

If you take your private live home and take it all from work, you are signaling. If you tell your work friends you can't do favors for them anymore (cheerfully and politely) because of a misunderstanding Mike made and complained about to your boss, you can subtly get people to be aware of Mike, who is probably gunning for the other people in your department. And you are signaling.

If you want to stay, Mike will get the idea that you are not to be fucked with. If you don't want to stay, you can very clearly show that you are an aboveboard, professional person not to be fucked with (your company may decide that after 15 years of loyal service they don't want to lose you). It'll make it easier if you decide you want to walk.

Unfortunately, your boss just proved that she is someone who can be fucked with. I would not trust her further than you can throw her. She ambushed you with your accuser, spraying spittle on you with his ridiculous accusations. A professional would calmly ask you in private without having the raving lunatic along - and would bring a HR representative. Then, when you confronted her, she passively said, "What do you want me to do?" Just because she has less clout than Mike at the job, that doesn't mean she doesn't owe her staff the benefit of the doubt, and some loyalty. Did she ever apologize?

If you were my friend or sibling, I would tell you to get another job. There is no excuse for the way this went down. You spend a huge proportion of your life at your job. Mike has twisted fifteen years of service with his accusations and nastiness. It's quite possible your colleagues picked up on Mike observing you or having a hard-on against you. Go where you can find better people.

If you want to stay, I don't think a letter from your boss will be enough. She is outranked by Mike. I would want a letter from Mike's boss. Is it worth going to battle over, though? No. Not when your war chief behaves as weakly as your boss did.
posted by mitschlag at 9:58 AM on May 7, 2014 [8 favorites]

I wonder if there is something going on with the way-higher-ups; are they looking for an excuse to downsize or eliminate your department, or do they want to make a clean sweep and hire their own people? Because I find it very strange (and very ominous) that this new guy can just come swooping in, rifle through the office receipts, and accuse a long-term employee of theft. It just doesn't seem like something a normal, sane workplace would allow.

And either your boss is a supreme wimp or is scared witless. Either way, she's not going to protect you and doesn't deserve your loyalty.

In addition to making a solid paper trail, I think consulting a lawyer might be a good idea, just because this sounds so fishy. And leverage every connection you have to find another job.

Because of the way Mike operated (six months into a new position and already making accusations against a long-term employee) and the way your boss and company reacted (all bow before the Power of Mike, and screw the long-term employee!) I would worry that there is something afoot with the higher-ups, and that Mike may have been brought in on purpose to make a clean sweep of your department.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:09 AM on May 7, 2014 [10 favorites]

There are some really fantastic answers here.

You should know that Mike will likely have another episode akin to this that will not involve you, and he will be seen for who he is.

To drop it is in your best interest. And if you like where you work, just get through the next few weeks and this will be a forgotten episode.

You should make sure both of your coworkers who were named are aware. It sounds like they are, but just make sure since you work closely with them.
posted by glaucon at 10:24 AM on May 7, 2014

To drop it is in your best interest.

No, God, no. Dropping it puts OP in a position of incredible vulnerability when she needs to be playing defense. If she plays it right, she can be secure and she can win. If she doesn't, she's still vulnerable and even if she isn't he's going to be out there crapping on someone else, probably driving his own manager insane, whose hands will be tied because she can't prove Mike's a liability. He has opened the company up to legal exposure. He has displayed poor judgment and unprofessional behavior. He's guaranteed to do it again.

Documenting these things is the way to help someone in the future get rid of Mike. It gives them ammunition. It won't happen tomorrow, but bullets don't go stale. Provide the ammunition.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:51 AM on May 7, 2014 [10 favorites]

When I had a corporate job, one of the things that I wasn't prepared for was how petty and bureaucratic it was. Even after I was told to document everything, well, I was doing the job of three people, so I didn't have time to do that and document everything on top of it. It was toxic, exactly the sort of place that I could imagine this happening at. But so many things are context-dependent; even if I had documented every fucked-up thing that was blamed on me, I still would have gotten fired, it just would have dragged out the process.

Because you've got a sense of the culture at your job, you can probably tell which of these suggestions is reasonable and likely to help you. From my experience, having a document cc'ed to HR would have been the first step in getting Mike fired while simultaneously covering your ass, but it's also an escalation. It does, as folks noted, carry risk, but that has to be weighed against the risk that Mike poses to you going forward. I would also have a talk with your manager about how they handled the situation. In that conversation, having a clearly escalating option that you don't take can help them come around to supporting giving you the letter confirming your innocence and Mike's "baseless and damaging" accusations. (That phrase is a subtle shot across the bow; it's establishing a pattern of slanderous claims for the next time that Mike freaks out.)

If you've been there 15 years, you have to have a sense of how to slow play justice. This isn't going to be the thing that gets him fired right now; it may be thing thing that gets him fired in six months. You want to remain as outwardly unfazed by this huge gaffe on his part, and maintain documentation on him until you have enough to sink the knife. He attempted a gambit and failed; you hold more power than you realize now, and he'll have to either learn from this lesson (it does happen) or be more aggressive to make up for it, which will make him less careful.
posted by klangklangston at 3:27 PM on May 7, 2014 [10 favorites]

If you are considering new jobs, then why WOULDN'T you try involving HR first? I know everyone is all "HR is useless and the enemy" but that isn't always the case. if you're already looking for a new job, what do you have to lose?

If I were you I would get your boss to sign off on a document outlying what has gone on. Then I would contact HR, cc in your boss and maybe Mike's boss. HR should be your primary target, and you should be copying in the boss(es), not the other way around.
- Say out right at the start of the memo that you would like to have this all documented to protect yourself from any further attacks and/or escalation from Mike.
- Describe EVERYTHING that has happened in painful detail. Factual, unemotional, but detailed. At the end I would do a brief summary of the three events and the results, in a sort of tl;dr way.
- I would then finish the document with a repetition of your concern over the fact that Mike has already falsely accused you three times and you are concerned that this behaviour is going to continue, creating a toxic work environment.
- Definitely say you are concerned over Mike's behaviour, namely that he took a personal item out of your office without permission (the painting) and you request their assurance that his behaviour is going to be addressed.
- I would say that you are concerned Mike harbours some sort of personal vendetta against you for reasons that are totally unknown to you. Say you have been there for fifteen years, your work has been excellent, you have had positive reviews, and never has there been any doubt placed upon you, and that it is deeply disappointing you've had to three time defend yourself against baseless and damaging accusations.
- Say that despite your being totally innocent and been able to prove that his accusations were false you feel that because of these events your reputation has been damaged.
- I would also say outright that you require that any further accusations of Mikes be addressed with HR present and to have them all fully documented.
- Attach a photocopy of the document your boss signed off on.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:42 AM on May 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

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