It’s Just Rumors, not a Sexual Harassment Complaint…Right?? WRONG!
The employee rumor mill . . . every workplace has one and, at any point, any unsuspecting employee can become the topic of watercooler conversation. How should you handle it when the owner of the company (or really any employee) plays the starring role in the latest rumors in the workplace – especially when the latest rumor involves potential sexual harassment. Read on to learn how one HR Director handled this all-too-common sticky situation.
Ellen is the HR Director for A2Z Market. She has found herself in quite a dilemma after speaking separately with two different store managers. Both managers told her they heard a rumor going around the store that a third manager, Jessica, was having an affair with Fred, the (married) owner of A2Z Market.
The managers assured Ellen they did not believe the rumor about the affair and thought it was a lie. They just wanted to bring the rumor to Ellen’s attention because the stories going around the workplace were quite elaborate and could cause a lot of trouble between Fred and his wife.
Ellen privately met with Fred to let him know what had been said. Fred vehemently denied the rumors and was incredibly hurt and distraught by the story. After speaking with Fred, Ellen believed the rumors circulating were false, but she was unsure how to proceed. So, she called one of our HR Professionals for guidance.
The HR Professional explained to Ellen that despite the suspicion the rumors are untrue, the best course of action is to treat the rumors as a potential complaint regarding sexual harassment and to conduct an immediate investigation. Ellen questioned whether it was necessary, after all, “it’s just gossip, right?” The HR Professional assured her yes, it was necessary because failing to investigate misconduct an employer suspects may be occurring can cause problems down the road if the rumors are true and Jessica felt pressured by Fred or felt she would lose her job if she didn’t go along with the affair.
However, since the complaint involved the owner of the company, the HR Professional further recommended Ellen hire an independent third-party to conduct the investigation to avoid the appearance of bias. After speaking to the HR Professional, Ellen contacted an independent
investigator to conduct the investigation.
This is not the first time a business owner has been accused of engaging in inappropriate behavior and it certainly will not be the last of rumors in the workplace . It is imperative an investigation be conducted immediately upon learning of potentially inappropriate behavior, regardless of who’s involved.
Since this complaint involved the owner, the best practice was to have an independent third party conduct the investigation. This enables you to demonstrate the investigation was unbiased. A third-party investigator eliminates the perception the owner is “controlling” or “manipulating” the investigation. In addition, given the nature of the complaint, employees will likely be more comfortable speaking with an independent investigator. If you need help in these situations or a third-party investigator contact Innovative Employer Solutions today.