Worked Up At Work

How to handle sticky office situations

Outside Incidents Can Be Relevant To Employee Evaluation

What employees do outside of work is relevant the office, too.

Several clients of mine had nasty incidents occur with their employees after work hours and contacted me to discuss their options. Their experiences may provide some insights for you today.

One occasion involved a female employee who was attending her son's baseball game one summer evening. She was in the stands, enjoying a few too many beers, and became very vocal, profane and obnoxious. The situation degenerated to the point where the police were called. Her behavior reflected very poorly on herself and (as far as her boss perceived it) reflected badly on her employer as well.

The other situation was far different. The employee was a young female under the age of 20. The situation was that she invited her young male supervisor, age 23, to come to her home (she lived with her parents but they were away at the time) on a weekend day. The allegation was that this young supervisor groped and attempted to strip the young female employee. The female was successful in fending off the attempted assault. After the young man left, the young girl proceeded to inform her friends about the alleged incident and word got back to the owner of the company where both employees worked. Eventually, the parents were also informed of the alleged incident.

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In both instances, nothing happened at work. The HR directors advised the owners that since nothing happened at work, nothing needed to be done at work. I was called in and vehemently disagreed. I advised the owners that they needed to get ahead of the situation and deal with it directly. There are public relations issues, there are employee morale issues, there are values issues and, perhaps in the second incident, even legal issues to consider.

In the first incident, there is a policy in the personnel manual that indicates that employees must comport themselves professionally, honorably, and ethically at all times. There are expectations articulated in the job descriptions requiring professionalism both on and off the job. The expectation goes on to remind the employees that their behavior off the job reflects on their employer and, for that reason, the expectation for professionalism at all times. The employee's profane and obnoxious behavior certainly failed to meet the expectations for professionalism. This incident, coupled with several instances of on the job unprofessionalism, presented the opportunity to justify termination of a marginal employee.

In the second incident, I saw the opportunity for a huge PR nightmare for the employer. Imagine the police entering the workplace, confronting the supervisor and "perp walking" him off of the premises. The internal productivity and probable morale hit could also be devastating to the employer. I recommended conducting a standard sexual harassment allegation investigation to which the employer approved. By getting in front of the situation and conducting a thorough/ timely investigation, the employer would have been exonerated of any wrongdoing and seen as a positive influence on the situation.

Incidences that involve employees that occur outside of the employment situation cannot help but have a negative impact on the employer organization. I recommend policies that insist on high moral standing and professionalism at all times. I recommend taking positive and proactive action whenever employees are involved. 

 

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., C.M.C., is the president of Labor Management Advisory Group and HR Solutions: On-Call, and the author of Mess Management: Lessons From a Corporate Hit Man.

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