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Hi All,

I have a relatively urgent problem I'm not sure how to handle it at this very moment.

Briefly...

Small (~150 person) company, I work for the CEO, who's not in right now. VP of HR is the entire HR department and is on vacation.

I have an employee who I recently inherited after a promotion that's been out sick for 3 weeks and he's about ready to come back, however, he doesn't want to work with his previous colleague because he claims he harasses him. There is no recorded history of this. And the other person denies it.

The employee wants to be transferred to another department and does not want to "quit" and feels he shouldn't have to because he's being harassed. There are no open positions for him.

The employee also expresses STRONG discontent with the colleague to the point where he utters words including "drive off a cliff", "blow the place up", "at my breaking point", and so on. I doubt he means this seriously but I'm quite concerned. Also, he has been experiencing some difficulties and is very young.

Not sure how urgently to elevate this problem... or where to go with it? Any suggestions?

tlhausmann's picture

First, do not bring them together. Meet with each individually.

Secondly, based on the use of the specific word "harassment", I believe you must take action.

Do both employees report to you?  Even if they don't, as the supervisor meet with the employee returning to work and document the specific grievances.  Sitting down to document the issue also clarifies whether the matter is employee conflict or confirms harassment. It is not clear in your post whether you agree it is harassment. 

There is a great MT podcast for handling conflict between directs:

http://www.manager-tools.com/2006/08/resolving-conflict

However, in this case I believe you must gather additional information because of the harassment claim. Your company almost certainly has a documented harassment policy.

jhbchina's picture

Let the employee continue sick leave till you get a clearer picture and consult with the company attorney.

Without full details, the attorney will not be much help, and at least you took action.

Then, if possible, meet the employee off site, get complete details of the harassment claim, and then, if you can, let them take a few more days off to recover while you investigate the charges. Then follow up with the attorney.

Hopefully, by then either the CEO or HR person will return and you can report the facts, and you have taken a step to resolve the crisis.

Good Luck

JHB

"00"

bug_girl's picture

I would also add that the words used by the employee are major red flags--good for you to pick up on them.

He probably *does* mean them seriously in the sense that he is signaling he's in great emotional distress. He probably won't act on them...for now.

Do you have an employee assistance program (i.e., confidential counseling?) That person needs to be connected to them ASAP.

 

markbamford's picture

Sorry, I don't know what proportion of contributors are from the US or UK etc. However, if from the UK then dealing with situations such as this is a matter of negotiating the minefield of legal obligations and precious little to do with management or common sense. For example, "harassment" is now a criminal offence in the UK, and the employer is obliged to protect employees against such things.

I have a law degree specialising in employment law so know enough not to give any unconsidered advice!

As your VP is on "vacation" I would hazard a guess that this is a US issue. I would still check out the legal implications as a matter of urgency - and probably before inviting the employee back to work.

thaGUma's picture

Call the VP even if they are on vacation. I assume he/she has a company mobile with them.

With regard to the employee. I would not extend their sick leave. If they chose not to return then let them make that choice. This is a new situation anf you should not accept liability until the facts are known. It is perfectly possible there is significant emotional (di)stress and you have zero facts to base any action on. Mark is right - take advice asap.

I would not choose to meet them off-site as suggested without approval of VP or CEO. The fact that the employee is so worked up after a period of absence is interesting could indicate stress or it could be linked to a personal issue unrelated to work. You are not a detective get help.

chris

anonymous_mgr's picture

Thank you all for your advice. Sorry it's been a while since I last wrote.

I ended up getting a hold of my boss that day. After investigating the claims of harassment by interviewing several people in the company who work with and around the two in question, I couldn't come up with ANY evidence of harassment, documented or otherwise.

The employee's sister called human resources threatening a law suit prior to any contact with the employee i.e. vast assumptions were being made that the company would not transfer the employee and that he would be let go. This was still during the period of his sick leave. I couldn't believe they would go to this extreme so early. We hadn't even said he couldn't come back and even if we did, why would we want an employee that threatened blow up the building, file a law suit, and successfully demand a transfer to return and set an example for everyone else?? Keep in mind this is manufacturing assembly/testing level work.

Interestingly enough, the employee called me later that night and said he was happily willing to come back as if nothing happened. This was quite confusing and made me take his concerns much less seriously.

I terminated the employee based on past performance problems (I left that out of this because I was more concerned about the pressing issue at hand) combined with his unwillingness to return unless he was transferred.

Call me crazy or wrong, but this is what I felt about the entire dilemna with this Gen-Yer (I'm one myself as well):

It seems that people take their work for granted, think they're entitled to a job (and their bosses job in due time), and companies are a service to them. I hope this mentality doesn't infiltrate industry in the US.

bug_girl's picture

This person sounds like he has some serious mental health issues--so I'm with 144. I wouldn't assume that all X/Yers are like this. 

I hope he gets the help and support he needs, but I'm glad for you the issue is resolved.

anonymous_mgr's picture

Sorry I didn't intend to generalize. I'm from gen Y as well and certainly realize we're not all like this. I was just reflecting on this experience, and how I've observed this attitude quite a bit among similar aged colleagues.