I have a case I’ve been working on involving a fatality in an auto accident. One of the witnesses was following behind one of the cars involved in the accident right before the accident occurred. She stopped to give assistance. She knew information that contradicted the official police report. Although she’s from a small community in which most people know each other, she has no relationship with the victims or parties other than having known one of the deceased in high school over 20 years ago. She tried to provide what she knew immediately prior to the accident. The police officer involved in investigating the accident immediately told her she was lying and that if she tried to give an official statement she would be prosecuted.
Let me acknowledge something. Her perception of what happened may be wrong, but that does not make her a liar.
I have interviewed hundreds of people who have been business owners, management employees, government officials, HR department employees or have been supervisors. I have heard these persons in positions of power say--when interviewing an employee who claimed to have information about wrongdoing or claim to have been a witness to or the victim of a particular type of harassment or discrimination–they started the interviews with such employees with the statement, “if I find out you’re not telling the truth I am going to fire you.”
I have also interviewed hundreds of employees. I have heard many employees indicate that, when they came forward with information that they thought was helpful to the company or the governmental agency because they had been a witness to or victim of wrongdoing, harassment or discrimination, verify that they had been threatened with termination if what they were telling their bosses or HR representatives could not be shown to be the truth. (The other interesting side note is that the same bosses and HR representatives have a problem with recording and often have policies against it).
Let me acknowledge that some employees are incorrect about what they say they have seen, heard or experienced. But that does not make them liars.
Let me further acknowledge that there are a few rare individuals who make up information to report to the police or their employer. When that occurs, action can be taken but threatening somebody with a criminal prosecution or termination will silence good people long before it stops those who purposefully lie.
Here is some actual testimony of a police officer from a police force within the Wasatch front: “We get complaints, there is no question. Nobody is ever happy all the time with police officers and so complaints come in. And when those come in, it's my opinion when you field that complaint as an investigator like that, the first thing that should be said is, ‘Well, if you are willing to fill out a written complaint and -- we will investigate that but you should know that if we find that you're in the wrong we are going to come after you.’”
Why do so many people in positions of power not understand that such attitudes and statements are a problem? Does it surprise us when horrible things go wrong in police forces, corporations, government agencies when such attitudes are shared by those who should know better? It shouldn’t because these wrong-headed attitudes are strongly held by many who do not understand how difficult it is to come forward with information about wrongdoing, harassment and discrimination.
Loren M Lambert © January 23, 2016.