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Dealing with workplace accusations? It’s time to investigate

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

In dealing with your office staff, allegations of wrongdoing are never something you can ignore. Whether the charge involves sexual or racial harassment, bullying or something else, they must never be ignored. Never.

Remember, an allegation by itself is neither fact nor fiction. It is simply a statement made by someone within your organization. In many ways, how you handle it can be as important as the facts themselves.

Ignoring an accusation leads to more problems

If an employee makes an allegation and is ignored, multiple problems arise. Consider two examples: the first is a charge of sexual harassment and the second a reported safety hazard in the parking lot—a dead tree that could fall on someone or on someone’s car.

Both allegations demand to be investigated. The first one should set off alarm bells in anybody’s head. Sexual harassment is a big deal taken seriously by the federal Department of Labor and by any state commission on human rights. Ignoring such a charge is a formula for disaster. The second allegation may seem a lower priority, but it needs to be investigated as well.

Every manager should know the rules about sexual harassment: Federal regulations require investigation of an allegation that is thorough and timely. The alleged victim, alleged perpetrator and every potential witness must be questioned. Timely means the investigation must commence within 72 hours of notice being provided by the whistleblower.

In the case of the potentially dangerous tree in the parking lot, the rules are more ambiguous, but the allegation still cannot be ignored. The tree may indeed fall and cause damage or injury and, if you’ve been warned, you could face additional liability.

The unspoken message you’re sending

Ignoring reported concerns also sends a negative message to employees.

If an employee says that something is bothering him or her, and management tells the employee that it is unimportant, what does that say about the organization and its culture? If management says that something that bothers an employee is unimportant, it is no different than saying the employee is unimportant. At the very least, management should respond to the employee’s concern by taking a look at whatever it is.

Taking people’s concerns seriously communicates that they are being taken seriously. Even if management finds no substance in the concern, the employee will surely appreciate the effort made to investigate the concern and to consider its merits.

Most employees will appreciate it. They will recognize that management allowed them to have their say and, in response, did a fair and thorough examination of the concern. That’s all reasonable people can really ask for or expect.

If management fails to respond appropriately, it sends a damaging message to employees. Management’s values are on display with every decision that management makes. The organizational culture is a byproduct of the organization’s values, which is to say the organizational culture is a byproduct of the manager’s values.

Related reading:

Model Tool: Checklist of steps to take when conducting an investigation

What to do when a lawyer harasses staffers but no one complains

Retaliation gets broader and more expensive and is hitting all offices









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