Accused of Harassment at Work?

Create an Accountability and Resolution Plan

Have you been warned or accused of bullying, harassment, or discrimination at work? Have you received communication about this from HR, recievd The BeeMail from The Wolf and The Bee, or another third party, informing you of inappropriate behavior on the job? 

Only a small percentage of harassment accusations are false, so take a close look at your actions from the other person’s perspective. Look inward and evaluate how your actions may have created or contributed to an uncomfortable or intolerable situation.

Even if you don’t understand or agree with the complaint, take the time to examine it. How can you de-escalate this problem and limit the risks for you, for your colleague and for your company?  Make a conscious choice to see this warning as feedback and a learning opportunity. When you change your behavior it can make the workplace better. 

Now What?

Below are three main areas to explore, including some exercises. You will assess the situation, your behavior, identify inappropriate actions, take accountability for your involvement, and create and implement a resolution plan to correct your mistakes moving forward.

The changes you make can help improve your work environment and protect you in case the complaint is escalated.

Before you start:

  • Change your attitude from defensiveness to introspection
  • Get a notebook and do the exercises below.
  • Be honest with your answers. These exercises are to help you navigate to a satisfactory resolution.

Impact Evaluation

When you were notified of your conduct, how did you feel? Have you considered how your actions made your colleague feel? 

Would you be surprised to discover your feelings, in part, mirror the feelings of the person impacted by your behavior? We have found the feelings experienced when someone is notified of their inappropriate conduct are similar to the feelings experienced by the people who are targets of that conduct (alarm, fear, anger, disbelief).

Mirrored Feelings

Feelings experienced when someone is informed of their conduct (YOU)

Feelings experienced when someone is the target of harassing conduct (YOUR COLLEAGUE) 


They misunderstood me/my intentions!


I can’t believe they did that!


How dare they?


How dare they?


This is going to impact my job. I could lose my job.


This is going to impact my job. I could lose my job.


What will other people think of me? I don’t want my partner, colleagues, or boss to find out.


What will other people think of me? I don’t want my partner, colleagues, or boss to find out.


I don’t want to be canceled. I don’t want to be vilified. I don’t want to be part of an investigation.


I will not be believed. I don’t want to become a target. I don’t want to be vilified. I don’t want to be part of an investigation.


I don’t want to see or deal with that person anymore.


I don’t want to see or deal with that person anymore.


I just want this problem to go away.


I just want this behavior to stop. I just want this problem to go away.

Why didn’t they just come and speak with me directly?
  • If you were informed of your inappropriate behavior by a third party, you could be asking why the person couldn’t just come and talk to you directly.
  • The reason is you. Consider for a moment, the person you harmed does not feel safe or comfortable interacting with you.
  • The one person that can fix this problem is the one person they don’t feel safe speaking with.
  • They want to resolve this issue, so they found another communication option that doesn’t require direct contact.
The cost of harassment and discrimination in the workplace
  • Your job description does not include enduring harassment, abuse, or discrimination.
  • For your colleague, you have made it a condition of working with you.
  • Harassment and discrimination are costly, and can negatively impact a person’s mental, physical, and financial health.
  • Individuals aren’t the only ones that bear the costs of harassment and discrimination:
    • “…worker misconduct, including harassment and bullying, cost U.S. businesses $20 billion last year alone—a combination of lawsuits, lost productivity, brand damage and employee turnover.” 
Define your impact

In your notebook or worksheet:

  • Write down how you felt when you were informed of your behavior.
  • Circle any feelings your colleague could also be experiencing.
  • Write down five ways your behavior has impacted your colleague.
  • Write down five ways your behavior has impacted people on your team or in your department.
  • Write down five ways your behavior, if it continues, can impact your company.

– Todd-Davis

Self Evaluation

Acknowledging your conduct may be hard. Examining your motives for that conduct may be even harder. Here are some questions and excersizes to help you identify and evaluate your behavior and motives.

Evaluate Your Behavior

Write down the answers to the following questions:

  • What incident/s did you recall when you recieved notice of your behavior? Do any additional situations come to mind?
  • Write down the specifics you remember about these interactions. Who? What? When? Where?
  • What were the circumstances surrounding those interactions (timing, witnesses, etc.)?
  • Did your colleague let you know you crossed a boundary? If so, what did they say or do? What was your response?
  • Looking back now, what other non-verbal communication did you miss (facial expressions, moves to distance themselves, posture, gestures, eye contact, tone of voice, shutting down)?
Determine the Power Imbalance

To determine who holds greater power, give yourself a point for each item in the following categories that provides you with greater benefit or job security. Give your colleague a point for each item that provides them with greater benefit or job security. Whoever has the most points at the end will most likely benefit from a power advantage.

  • Titles/roles – What is your title? What is your colleague’s title?
  • Departments – What department do you each work for (some departments may be valued higher than other departments)?
  • Company seniority – How many years have you each worked with the company?
  • Company access/network – Who do you know in the company with power or status? What company connections do you each have? 
  • Career seniority – How many years do you each have in your career field?
  • Social power dynamics –
    • highest level of education
    • gender, race, age, LGBTQ+, disabilities, etc.
Understand How Power Dynamics Affect Behavior

A power imbalance can affect workplace culture and behavior.

  • People with greater power have a built-in safety net that can protect them, and give them a wider range of behavior that won’t be challenged. 
  • Meanwhile, people with less power have less protection and a smaller range of behavior and options. They also take on a greater risk if they challenge, call out, or set boundaries with someone with more power than they have. 
  • This may result in using subtle, indirect language, avoidance, or body language to communicate their discomfort.

Evaluate Your Motives

Motives are the underlying reasons for your behavior so they can be difficult to untangle. They can be conscious or subconscious, developed from years of habits, old beliefs or social constructs. Below are two options to help you identify your motives: 

Option 1: Identify Motives Chart Excersize

Identify how you were feeling before, during and after the interaction with your colleague. The chart below can help you identify possible motives. Write down all that apply.

Motive plus examples:


  • I’ll do what I want
  • I deserve it
  • It’s always been done this way


  • I’m in trouble 
  • I am going to lose [___]
  • I always make mistakes


  • They made me mad
  • I won’t be disrespected
  • I don’t like change


  • I don’t like people who [___]
  • I don’t like them
  • I don’t like their ideas


  • I don’t have time for this
  • I am doing everthing
  • They are not helping


  • I didn’t know I can’t say that / do that
  • It used to be ok to say/do that


  • I’m being ignored
  • No one listens to me
  • They don’t respect my expertise


  • I’m the boss
  • I’m going to win
  • They need to be put in their place


  • I want to get to know them
  • I want to ask them out
  • I like them


  • They are picking on me
  • They are attacking me
  • They are mean to me


  • I don’t like people who [___] (using stereotypes to justify, explain a person’s behavior)


  • I’m going to win
  • I have something to prove
Option 2: Why 5 Times Excersize (with examples)

Ask yourself “WHY” five times to get to the root of your motives

WHY 1:

Why did you do [ACTION / BEHAVIOR]?

Example WHY 1:

Why did you make an inappropriate joke at Taylor’s expense?

Answer 1: Because I wanted to make everyone laugh.

WHY 2:

Why did you [INSERT ANSWER TO WHY 1]?

Example WHY 2:

Why did you want to make everyone laugh?

Answer 2: Because I wanted to interrupt Taylor’s conversation with the boss and make them look bad.

WHY 3:

Why did you [INSERT ANSWER TO WHY 2]?

Example WHY 3:

Why did you want to interupt their conversation and make them look bad?

Answer 3: Because I want my work to be acknowledged

WHY 4:

Why did you [INSERT ANSWER TO WHY 3]?

Example WHY 4:

Why do you want your work to be acknowledged?

Answer 4: Because I deserve the promotion over Taylor.

WHY 5:

Why did you [INSERT ANSWER TO WHY 5]?

Example WHY 5:

Why are you worried you won’t get the promotion?

Answer 5: Because I do everything and I don’t like people that take credit for my work.

Check the above Motives Chart to see how many of your “Why” answers match a motive. This will give you an idea of what motivated your behavior.

  • In the case of the example used above, insecure (I’m being ignored), fearful (I could lose a promotion), entitled (I deserve a promotion), stressed (I do everthing), discriminating (I don’t like people who…) are all possible motives for the conduct.

Write Down a “Motives Statement”

When you have completed one of the motive exercises, write down your “Motives Statement”, that links your bad conduct with one or more of the motives you identified.

  • I made inappropriate jokes at Taylor’s expense because I wanted to make them look bad, because I am worried they wll get a promotion and I won’t.

Create an Accountability and Resolution Plan

Taking responsibility for your actions is a critical step to putting this problem behind you. It’s not easy to admit you made a mistake or to apologize for that mistake. But if you want to de-escalate this issue and reduce the risk, it is best to address and correct your behavior early and with purpose.

Additionally, this is an opportunity to show you are adaptable, you listen to feedback, you take responsibility for your mistakes, you can create a plan for resolution, and you follow through with that plan. All strong skills to develop and demonstrate at work.

Here are three things you can do take accountability and work toward resolving this issue:

  • Document your behavior, your impact, your accountability plan, and any work you have done or will do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. If someone comes to speak with you directly about this issue, you will have a thoughtful, proactive course of action you have already started. 
  • Document apologies and feedback.
  • Document interactions moving forward, especially interactions that can show your progress and your commitment to changing your behavior.
Develop Your Accountability and Resolution Plan

Ask yourself: What do I need to do to ensure I can work together with my colleague/s moving forward.

  • Write down the behavior and actions you are taking responsibility for – refer to the behavior evaluation exercise above
    • I behaved inappropriately when I did [BEHAVIOR/S] while [CIRCUMSTANCES]. I know my behavior was [LABEL BEHAVIOR (inappropriate, unwarranted, wrong)].
  • Write down how your behavior impacted you, your colleague, your team etc. – refer to the impact exercise above
    • I know my behavior [IMPACT OF BEHAVIOR (hurt)] [PERSON/S HARMED] by [RESULT OF BEHAVIOR (creating a toxic work environment)].
  • Write down your reasons/explanations – refer to the motives exercise above
    • I behaved [LABEL BEHAVIOR] way because [MOTIVE/S].
  • Write down specific ways you will take accountability for your behavior. Include the steps you will take to change your behavior moving forward. In order to rebuild trust these should be clearly defined, actionable and visible for you and others
    • So this won’t happen again, I plan to address this problem by [ACTIONABLE PLAN].
  • Write down ways you can make working together easier for all parties involved
    • I plan to improve my working relationship with [COLLEAGUE’S NAME] by [ACTIONABLE PLAN]

Apologize When Possible

Start with an Email

Only once you have taken time to process the complaint, evaluate your behavior, and you have created a clear resolution plan, may you consider sending an apology by email.

Apologizing can be difficult. But there are benefits for you. An authentic apology is the best way to de-escalate and take responsibility for a mistake early. It also gets all parties on common ground and working towards a satisfactory resolution, more quickly.

Your Apology Email Should Include the Following:
  1. An apology: Be specific about the behavior you are apologizing for. 
  2. Take responsibility for impact: Make the apology about them. The goal is to acknowledge and take responsibility for the impact of your behavior.
  3. Explain: Offer an explanation (not an excuse) as this will shape your plan of action moving forward. Be introspective in your explanation. Use “I” statements. Do not blame the other person for your behavior.
  4. Plan of action: Share the steps you have taken and are working on to ensure this won’t be a problem in the future. Ask an open-ended question on what they want to see from you.
  5. Request consent to contact, if possible or appropriate: Offer a time to have a deeper discussion if and when they are ready.
  6. Invite feedback: Create space for your colleague to comment on your apology and contribute to the plan.


Dear Taylor, 

I am sorry (apology) I made a joke at your expense in front of the entire team (responsibility for specific behavior). I took the joke too far, and I know I hurt your feelings and made you look bad in front of everyone (your impact on them). I like to make people laugh but it wasn’t fair to make you the punchline of those jokes. Looking back I see how I sometimes make jokes at other people’s expense. I can do better (explanation, introspection)

I am working on thinking before I speak, especially when I get carried away, joking around. (Plan of action based on explanation). I have completed all the exercises in the workbook provided by The Wolf and The Bee (action already taken). I have also engaged a mentor so I can improve my communication skills (continuing action).  

When you are ready I’d like to meet with you to apologize in person and find a way to work better together (request for contact/action and goal of contact). In the meantime, if there is anything else I can do, I would appreciate your feedback (invite feedback).

If you don’t know who made the complaint, or you have been told not to reach out to the other person:

  • Write down an apology as if you were going to send it, using the format above.
Other Tips
  • Review your employee handbook: What is your company’s reporting and resolution process? Many company handbooks do not have information to coach their employees on how to manage a conflict, after a complaint has been received. This only means the process is not defined or is subjective, and can work in your favor if you are proactive.
  • Document your plan and progress: If the problem escalates you will want to be able to show your plan, and any of the actions you took to correct your behavior.
  • Be proactive: don’t ignore the problem or the problem could grow beyond your control.
  • Be compassionate with the other person and yourself. It’s OK to be awkward in the beginning.
Research and Develop New Skills

Here are some articles you can reference to research and develop new skills:

Things Not To Do

In moments of challenge or heightened emotions, such as when confronted with an issue or problem that makes us feel attacked or defensive, it’s important to take step back and take time to process. 

Do not:
  • Do not confront the other person 
  • Do not retaliate against anyone
    • Don’t campaign against that person with other co-workers, colleagues, managers, etc.
    • Don’t vilify or bad mouth the other person
    • Don’t ice the other person out of work projects
    • Don’t test boundaries
    • Don’t make any threats
    • Don’t make the other person’s job more difficult
  • Do not minimize or dismiss the complaint
    • Even if you don’t understand it or agree with it, take the time to examine the complaint so you are clear where your responsibility starts and ends
  • Do not make excuses or blame others. If there is a bigger problem at hand, identify those factors so you can be aware of them and include them in your resolution plan

 We all have blind spots. No one is perfect. Luckily we grow when we take time to learn from our mistakes. This is an opportunity to learn something new about ourselves, learn or exercise new skills while helping to create a safer workplace for everyone, including you.

Support Compassionate Accountability

The Wolf and The Bee is a non-profit organization with the mission to eliminate workplace harassment and discrimination. We believe in compassionate accountability, to ensure safe workplaces for everyone. 

If you found the above exercises helpful you can be part of the solution: 

  • Make an “I appreciate the warning” donation HERE.
  • Take the Survey and help us improve our process, information and tools HERE.
  • If you wish to contact The Wolf and The Bee you can contact us HERE.