Worked Up At Work

How to handle sticky office situations

What Happens In Vegas May Not Stay In Vegas

Employers and managers are faced with tough decisions over outside events.

Whether it’s an after hours party or sporting event far from work, incidents that are away from the workplace may still be relevant to employers.

One of my clients had an employee who was attending a son’s baseball game on a summer evening. The employee 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. The employee’s behavior reflected very poorly on the worker and, in the manager’s opinion, the company.

Another situation involved a female employee under the age of 20. She invited her male supervisor, age 23, to come to her home. She lived with her parents, but they were away for the weekend. She alleged that this young supervisor groped and attempted to strip her. She succeeded 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 had 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. The employer approved. By getting in front of the situation and conducting a thorough and timely investigation, the employer would have been exonerated of any wrongdoing and seen as a positive influence on the situation.

Incidents that involve employees that occur outside of the employment situation cannot help but have an 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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