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How Do We Make a Supervisor Deal With a Problem Employee?

We have a problem that needs resolution right away. One of our supervisors avoids dealing with a problem employee, who tends to bully others into accepting his ideas and resists collaborating with his co-workers. Each time a complaint is brought forward, this supervisor buries his head in the sand. What kind of training or intervention should we provide? How do we raise this delicate issue?

— Intimidated by the Problem, human resources specialist, nonprofit, Washington, D.C.

June 30, 2014
Related Topics: Safety and Workplace Violence, The Latest, Dear Workforce, Legal, Talent Management, Training

Dear Intimidated:

Unfortunately, what you describe is all too common in our workplaces. The supervisor’s lack of response is why employees often quit complaining.

Bullying is a persistent and malicious behavior that intimidates, degrades and robs others of their humanity. It may be subtle and nuanced (eye rolling, isolation, ignoring someone, gossip, etc.) or overt behavior such as yelling, swearing or assault. 

If the complaints have been coming to you as an HR professional, you have a responsibility to follow through — particularly if the supervisor does not. One of the primary problems: HR receives a complaint about bullying, but fails to take action.

When HR receives a complaint, specific questions need to be asked about the misconduct:

  • What are the observable, objective behaviors (rather than euphemisms such as bullying) that constitute misconduct? 
  • How often does it occur?
  • Who is the target?
  • Who witnessed it?

It is imperative to determine if the misconduct is directed at someone in a “protected class” due to their age, race, religion, disability and gender, to name a few. Your organization puts itself in peril by failing to investigate allegations of bullying or harassment. Although there are no federal or state anti-bullying laws, employees and their attorneys are getting creative in suing employers for “bullying” using various tort laws. Conducting an investigation and following through on any findings is the first step to minimize your liability.

Train all supervisors and managers on their legal and ethical responsibilities related to bullying, discrimination and harassment. Additionally, they must be trained on how to intervene when they are informed of or observe the behavior. Often managers don’t intervene because they lack the skills. This is a second opportunity for HR — teaching the skills and then coaching the supervisor to use them when required.

Assuming your organization has a code of conduct policy, emphasize to supervisors their responsibility to make sure all employees adhere to it, ensuring the workplace is free from intimidation. If the supervisor fails to adhere to your requirement, despite training and coaching, then it is time to approach the supervisor’s manager with a documented report of the problem. It then becomes a performance management opportunity for the supervisor’s manager.

SOURCE: Susan Strauss, Strauss Consulting, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, May 10, 2014



 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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