Hey manager, I get it, this is not a topic you really want to talk about. But you need to. Office harassment claims will land on your desk…they probably already have. What you do next will have a profound affect on your team and its structure going forward.
In almost every case of office harassment, it starts out as a he-said-she said. From there it devolves into fights, arguments, and sometimes, legal action. But no matter how emotional and uncomfortable the situation becomes, there will always be some practical considerations you must work through.
For example: after it’s all said and done, if you keep either or both people, what do you do with them? In many cases, keeping them in the same positions or same departments is a definite no-go. So whom do you transfer? You might be tempted to just send the complainer packing. After all, they seem like the one most likely to benefit from new surroundings.
But, wait… consider this: what if you complete the transfer, and the person feels like they’re being punished because they complained? It’s more common than you may think. Often, an employee feels comfortable in their position, and they like their coworkers, except the one causing them trouble. A transfer, no matter how well intentioned, could be seen as a punitive measure. “See what happens when you rock the boat!”
Unfair? Perhaps. Irrational? Maybe, but it doesn’t make the situation any less precarious. When your solution to a problem is supposed to be in the best interest of an offended party, take a minute to check if that particular offended party thinks your decision would be in his or her best interest.
Now, in a case where the allegation creates all sorts of ripples in the company, it might be necessary to conduct a transfer against an employee’s expressed wishes simply to keep from derailing an entire department. Use your best judgment in these situations, but make sure you are deciding rather than assuming.
Finally, throughout the entire process, it is vital that all conversations and complaints are documented and, as much as possible, specific. You will need both these descriptions and these records in order to make an objective, rather than subjective, decision while protecting your company in the process.
David Milberg is an investor in NYC.