How To Respond To An Employee's Report At Work
5:46PM Sep 2, 2020
Okay. Hello and welcome to my friend, Rebecca G. For those of you who may not know us, I'm Meredith Holley. I'm a lawyer, and life coach, and I founded Eris Conflict Resolution, where we help employees stop sexual harassment and toxic work environments without quitting their jobs. One of the ways that we do that, is we support employers when they receive reports of some kind of wrong-doing, whether it's abuse or bullying, toxic work environment issues, or harassment, or discrimination. And we come in with what we see being a more successful solution than a lot of other options. Rebecca do you want to introduce yourself?
Hi, I'm Rebecca. I am a facilitator here at Eris. I also have twenty, twenty? 19 years of human resources experience.
Don't lie, don't lie Rebecca...
Um, and also I am a life coach for sexual assault survivors that want to have a better life than they did before their assault.
Awesome. So, Rebecca comes at this issue from like, such an extensive background in HR. I come at it from a legal background where I see what happens after HR takes action. And, so like, one of the reasons I started our business and started what we do is I would see employees come to me and I know that HR has followed the standard procedures of what to do. And, unfortunately, it doesn't resolve the situation. And, so like, when Rebecca... when you worked in HR, and somebody would come to you and say, "this employee keeps being rude to me" or is abusive or whatever, what how would you, what were sort of your trainings and how to respond to that?
So, my trainings were that sometimes you do an investigation. Okay? And so, generally, you would do an investigation if there was a policy or a potential policy violation, especially where someone could be disciplined or discharged, aka fired.
Right. I think that's right. I think that like sometimes there does need to be an investigation. I think it's my my observation that investigations are always targeted to the wrongdoer and whether the wrongdoer needs discipline or discharge. Is that sort of your experience?
Yeah, yeah. Um, yeah, for sure. We wanted... like, my goal was always to find out exactly what happened. And to then give the best corrective course that I could give. Suggest it, actually, to be more accurate suggest it. Um, and some... I know that some people can do very thorough investigations, but they are very limited in our scope and what we can do. Um, and so... yeah, I mean, that's my experience.
I mean, I think... and so, what we want to talk about is: when is an investigation appropriate? When you get a report as an employer, as an HR person, what are the steps that you can take to resolve it while protecting the company but also getting the employees back to work in a healthy way? Because, I think... like, the research shows that... so there's this research study--I was reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" book, and he's talking about this research study--about doctors. And, that there's basically no correlation between a doctor's errors and whether they get sued. But, there's like 100% correlation between the doctor's bedside manner and whether they get sued.
And so, the thing that I've always seen as a lawyer is employees don't call me because they think the law was violated, they call me because they think their employer was mean to them, and rude, and unfair, right? They were disrespected, they have that feeling of the bad bedside manner is always the indicator, not any knowledge of the law, whether the law was broken. And then, we extrapolate. We say, "okay, now I think the law is broken because I'm mad at this person."
Yeah. All the time.
Well, and there were so many times I had the same experience. People will come to me and HR, basically explaining to me that somebody was mean. And, they're saying, "well, it was harassment, it was discrimination, it was this and that," and I would have to explain to them: "okay, that doesn't necessarily fit this framework, but obviously there's some sort of
And, and if you don't know how to heal that, it makes a bigger issue.
Well, that's... and that's the problem that I would always see is people would say, "I went to my boss, I've made this complaint, they didn't do anything about it." Or then, "all of a sudden, they said they were going to investigate me, and they've never investigated me before. And why do they think I'm a liar?" And, the employer probably didn't mean I'm going to investigate you. But, most employees don't get questioned on whether they're lying or not until things rise to that level of harassment and discrimination, when really they're more sensitive at that point. And, more likely to be offended, feel disrespected, be angry, and then want to sue the employer in that scenario. Right?
So, it creates, I think, this disaster scenario for employees and employers if there isn't other support. I think that sometimes the employer does need to investigate because you may have a danger on your premises that other people are exposed to. Like, you may have a dangerous person and you have to determine that, but that provides no support to the person accused or the person who complained.
No, not at all. You know, and actually, I think it makes everybody else a lot less safe. Because once somebody finds out there's an investigation, everybody starts acting differently, and taking different precautions, and doing things out of character for them because they don't know how to handle, THEY don't know how to handle that person.
I'll say, when I get a call... I remember one time I got this call from this business owner, it was a pretty small business with a few owners and like a handful of employees, not a big business. So, important for people to be able to get along, because there's so few people, right? The employer was just panicked, saying, "do I need to investigate this? And, if I do, what does that even look like? And, if I do investigate and do it wrong, is that going to make it all worse? Am I going to be part of the harassment?" Just like panicked... And I think the reason that employers and HR people get panicked about this and feel sort of personally culpable for the employee's distress is that we just haven't been taught tools that work to resolve these issues.
Yeah, no. 1,000%, 1000%. Like, you don't just like become a business owner and all of a sudden know how to handle these things, right? Like, and a lot of times... people, like managers too, when you get promoted into a management position, you don't all of a sudden have all these skills. It's just not a thing that happens. And we know it doesn't happen, because we've all had that manager, right? You're like...
I was doing a, like, an informational interview with somebody earlier today. And she was like, "what do you think is the most important skill for somebody who's going into an HR position or going into working with employees and supporting them?" And I was like, "the ability to trust your instincts and understand human emotion." And, we think that it's not a teachable skill, but I actually think that those things are teachable skills, and that's what we do in IMPACT training.
Yeah. So, I feel like we have a few examples of where we've seen this work better than an investigation and I have a couple thoughts about that. Do you have examples that come to mind for you?
I mean, I have examples where I think I've seen, right like, I've seen small businesses, large businesses, but I'm just thinking about some small business owners that I worked with where they're so afraid to investigate that they let something go on for so long that it becomes so unmanageable that they have... there's almost no other course but legal, like a legal action, right?
Right. And, you lose this whole group of employees, right?
Yeah, yeah. Because it's, it becomes like a cancer. Right? Like, you know, if you have like one employee... what I've always seen, right, is if you have one employee or one manager that isn't effectively communicating or doesn't know how to be emotionally intelligent, they'll find the other employee or the other manager.
And, they'll make a cluster and...
Of unhappiness with your organization.
Unhappiness with your organization...
And, drag on other employees. And they don't even mean to, I think.
I don't even blame them for it. They're looking for support.
Because they're not getting it.
Like, we'll do... like, it's a human behavior, right? Because I've even seen it in HR departments.
Right? Like, I've been in HR departments where it's just like, "we're HR. What is happening here?!" Right? Like...
So, we had this one organization reach out to us this one time and they had done an investigation and the HR person came to me because he said, "I know that the employee who reported isn't happy with the results. And, she still feels unsafe at work. And, I don't know how to make her feel safe." But, she had worked there for like 30 years or something and ran his whole department and was like, pretty much, an irreplaceable person. Like, if they lost her it was a big deal. And, it was a big deal for her too. Like, that would mean a new career for her if she left this organization.
And, they said um... you know, they basically found an inconclusive investigation which is... almost like 95%, I feel like, of investigations are somewhat inconclusive when it's just like, an interpersonal issue. Because, usually, multiple people say one thing. Some people say a different thing happened. People just disagree.
And so, the HR person came to me and he said, "she's not gonna leave. I'm not worried about losing her as an employee, because she's worked here for forever. I just want her to feel safe. I want us to support her, we care about her." I talked to the employee and she was said, "I've actively applied for other jobs and my only other, my only option right now is leaving." That was her report to me.
And so, to me, that was so informative of how management, HR, business owners have a very positively skewed view of employees' experience at work. And partly, I think it's because employees do self-report more positively to their boss than they do to an independent person.
Yeah, for sure.
Yeah. So then, the thing that we saw happen with them was we worked with three of the employees who were in this situation and by the time we were done, all of the employees were like, felt safe, could go back to work, understood the root causes of all the conflict that was happening. And, were able to listen to their instincts, instead of the investigation about what they were going to believe about their workplace and how they were going to enforce their boundaries.
Yeah. Well, and I think... like from the investigations that I did, and I had a pretty extensive investigations background, right? I was limited to, and we talked about this a little bit in another video, but like, I was limited to concrete facts. Right? And, I wasn't there to find out, necessarily, the root cause. Right? I was there to find out if the incident happened. And, that's pretty much it.
And, if it did, then what discipline do we issue? If it didn't, tough luck, Buttercup. Right? Like, go back to work.
Right. Which doesn't, it doesn't happen.
But, it doesn't work.
And, then you have a very dissatisfied employee.
Yeah, well two, right?
Two dissatisfied employees... if that's like the, if it's just an interpersonal thing, right?
But, you might have a whole department.
You might have a whole department. And, if I can't, if I don't have like an email or, you know, like some THING... I, as the HR professional, couldn't find... I couldn't find the basis. And so, to me, that's how the decision's made. And, I said this on another video, where the good thing, like with what we do, is we get to the root cause, we do the emotional intelligence part. And, we do the repair... where, I really couldn't do that. Because, a lot of times, it was... what was taught to me, was that puts us in the position of admitting
... that there was something that happened that was wrong. But, I think at the point that you have an employee that reports, "you know, Joe kind of made me uncomfortable the other day, it was weird." You have somebody that's in severe distress. Because nobody is brave enough to report until things have gotten really bad. And, they're telling you the rose-colored glasses, icing on the cake version of what happened.
I think cake is the wrong analogy, but I don't even care.
You know, like they're telling you just the tip of the iceberg of what actually is happening.
And, I think that employers are often taught if they find out something wrong is happening, then they're wrong, then their company's bad, which is a HUGE lie.
And, it's not even how public perspective goes. Like, the Harvard studies about public perspective say that if you find out about an incident of abuse, of harassment, of discrimination, and the public finds out about it, they care more about the employers responding supportively than they care about the incident.
It's because we know this happens. We know this happens. So, the cover up is really the problem.
Yeah. And, a lot of people think a lack of action is a cover up.
It might be.
And, you know, like sometimes... Yeah, it might be. And, sometimes it's just like "uhhh... I don't know what to do..."
"What do I do with my hands? This looks like sexual harassment... I don't know what to do with my hands." Yeah.
Like, "I'm going home. Bye."
"This is above my paygrade I just..." Yeah.
"I don't get paid for this..." It's like, "you do, actually."
Or, you don't. We do.
Yeah, yeah. Well, no. It's so funny, though.
I mean, it's not everybody's job to do it because they weren't trained to do it. Like, if you weren't trained to do it, don't like... you need to hire somebody.
A thousand percent!
To come in and save your employees.
Or, they leave and sue you.
Even, like even if you don't feel like it is justified, if you feel like nothing happened. It's that thing of if people feel disrespected, they want to leave and sue you--even if you think it's grounded and nothing. And so, if you create... I mean, the other thing that's interesting is when we do these repair procedures, when we do the IMPACT trainings with multiple employees in an organization--like if somebody's accused and somebody who's accusing--ultimately, I feel like I have a pretty good sense of probably what happened.
It's like totally irrelevant what actually happened to people's experience of what happened.
Yeah, yeah. And, when I think back to all of the employees that have left various places that I've worked, right? I know why they're leaving, like I know. And if they try it... you know, like, if on the exit interview they're like, they say, "oh, you know, I found another job." Yeah, they found another job. But, they found another job because...
Because they were looking for another job... because they felt disrespected or not supported by their work.
Yeah, yeah. So, I think... I mean, what we see is really, it's just these tools that people were not taught and they're structured tools. And it's not like you and I, I mean, we are magic, but it's not because we're magic that this works. It's because it's a structure that works.
And, so I think for any employer, for any manager, for any HR person who has somebody reporting or who sees an employee who's taking weird sick days, or like, is late on deadlines, when they're usually on time, or shows these other signs of distress, IMPACT training is, I think, the solution. The best solution that I've seen for these situations above, and beyond any investigation or other procedural response to workplace health issues.
Yeah, and I think what it is that, like, we offer that's different is it takes the whole situation into account. And, all and everybody as a whole person, just not like an employee/employer, right? Like, we really can look at the situation in a much more holistic way.
Yeah. And we take a mediator stance on it. So what our intention is always that what people tell us in the trainings is going to be confidential. We don't represent the employer as a lawyer. We don't represent the employee as a lawyer, but we take the mediation stance and produce confidentiality under that stance. So, our purpose is not to create documents to set the employer up for a lawsuit because that doesn't have to happen. We want everyone to get back to work, be healthy, fulfill your purpose and not have to feel unsafe or--on either side, even the employers feel super unsafe, I think, when this kind of thing happens.
Oh, you know, and it's so funny. I have to say that most of the time, you know, who was freaking out the most? The employer.
Yeah, even more than the person accused or the person who believes that they've experienced harassment, discrimination... agreed. I've been in tearful crisis meetings with employers because they feel so insecure about what the appropriate response is. And so, I think the fact that we can come in and say we know exactly what to do... My experience is, the second an employer hires us, they're like "oh, phew." That you know what to do, it like makes them feel better.
And, I would like to offer, to my HR friends out there: if you happen to be in an investigation where you are feeling that this, that one, or both, or everybody is really on edge and potentially even thinking about litigation, if that's on your mind, just call us.
Just call us.
Don't wait for anything to happen or to like let it play out.
This is the thing I was saying to somebody recently, like, we see people wait years, until--like you said--it's just this infestation of energy drag and unhappiness. And, like bad work product even, and not get help. And then, there's a litigation, which is just more money, energy on everybody's part. And then, we see these other situations where people hire us early on and we resolve it. And, I almost think, like, I think for some employers, I'm like, "I hope you see the difference between these two options, because I see them every day..." where you hire us early on before you even think you should, and you don't even think about it again for the next decade. Versus, a decade of hiring lawyers, and like having to produce documents, and taking time away from work, and like just devoting time to conflict. I mean, which we're happy to do. We're happy to help people when there is a litigation, but I would always...
We had this one organization that was going to hire us to resolve the conflict and I felt like I didn't hit it hard enough with them that they needed to hire us and we were the best response. They hired another consultancy firm. And, it tanked the organization. The employees all hired us, and like unionized. A bunch of them left, because the administration was so opposed to anything that the employees were doing, including hiring us.
It was hard to watch. And, I always look back and was like, "when this organization was thinking about hiring us, I should have been like, do it now or else! Please, hire us now." Because we got recordings of what the consultancy firm was doing with the employees and Rebecca and I were both like, "oh, my gosh..."
"Don't do that."
And I, I think also like, and like, kind of like, what you're saying is when I think about all of the time, right? The time lost from like, people... it's really funny because like, I know I've had managers that when they don't deal with something, they think like, the problem will go away and it just gets worse. And so, it's like the time you invest in creating your own problem... thousands, thousands of dollars, hours lost...
Nights of sleep.
Yeah, it's amazing to me.
And, then my time. You have to think about my time later when I have to litigate it. I'm like, I could have solved it, and moved on to the next problem. But now, I have to litigate this. I was up until two in the morning last night on one of these litigation things and I was like, "what if they had just hired me to solve this problem before I had to go through 300 pages of text messages?"
Okay, and like, this is what... this is a rule: if you have one page of text messages of a problem, get help. Don't wait.
Don't wait until you have 300 pages of a problem.
And I used to. This was something I used to enact, right? And I was like, if you go back and forth and email with an employee more than twice, you have a meeting.
And, you talk about it.
But like, if you aren't able to do that, then you definitely...
You have a problem. You need help. And like, get structured help that works.
Yeah, get help that works.
So, the way that people can find out more about... if you're an owner of a company, if you're a manager, if you're an HR person, and you have an employee that you think could be at risk, if you have gotten a report of a problem, FOR SURE, go to erisresolution.com/trainingemployer. And, there's more information about how to work with us that way, how to get in contact with us. We ask you to invite your employees to work with us. Then, we invite the employee, because we need buy in from the employees.
But, the first step is just to get on the phone with us and talk about whether your situation is an appropriate fit for the work that we do. Not every situation is an appropriate fit and so we like to sort of vet that. But, if you suspect that it is, we'd be happy to talk to you and so it's erisresolution.com/trainingemployer.
All right, thanks Rebecca for chatting. I know we could talk for hours and hours but... get back to work.