My Colleagues are Framing our Boss for Harassment. Should I Expose Their Evil Plot?

Emily Yoffee
October 27, 2011

Dear Prudie,
I work at a small company and love my job. We have a controversial CEO who has made several enemies over the last few years. It has come to my attention that there is a plot to get him ousted with a false claim of sexual harassment. One of the conspirators is a colleague who the boss dislikes. I know the claim is false because another one of the plotters, a friend who works in human resources, has essentially told me as much. I told my friend that what they are doing is wrong and dangerous. She will not retract her claim because she thinks it is for the good of the company. The conspirators have been in contact with a lawyer, so I think there is no turning back. Obviously, I can’t go to HR with this information. I feel powerless and sad for my boss, whose personal and professional life could be ruined. Should I warn him of this plot? Or should I just hope the truth will prevail?

—No More Drama

Dear Drama,
Your friend in HR must have studied at the Borgia School of Management. So two of your disgruntled co-workers have concocted a scheme to make false accusations and thus destroy the CEO. You’re right that this is wrong and dangerous. Unfortunately, once you get involved in this intrigue—even to try to expose it—there is not necessarily a safe path for you. I spoke to employment attorney Philip Gordon, and he laid out some of the minefields ahead. Let’s say you come forward and tell your boss what’s up, then he takes action against the conspirators. That could result in two women in the company, one in HR, saying they’ve been slandered by you. On the other hand, if you don’t say anything and wait for the truth to vindicate your boss, he could end up hustled out the door and the reason for his ouster kept quiet. Gordon said he always advises clients weighing such quandaries to assess their own moral compass and capacity for risk. Maybe you have financial and personal obligations that mean you cannot put your job in jeopardy, and you just have to find comfort in the fact that you’ve done what you could by warning your friend to back off. Maybe you can’t live with knowing an injustice might be done, and you have to act. If you fall into the latter camp, this is a case in which the anonymous letter may be the best way to go. You could write to the boss (or the board, if there is one) and let him know, without even naming names, that there is a plan afoot to smear him. This could give him some protection. And since an investigation would likely ensue, word of it might quash the plans of the conspirators. So the boss may be saved. But if you’re the only confidante of your pal in HR, she could still know you were the tipster. Gordon said that besides the tawdriness of trying to influence company policy through character assassination, if your colleagues go ahead, they could end up destroying what they think they’re saving. He said that if the CEO is ousted, then it comes out that HR was behind a plan to tar an innocent man, he’d love to have your boss as a client because your firm would be facing some colossal liability.