Periodically, we ask three HR pros how they’d handle a difficult situation at work. Today’s problem: A female staffer who suddenly turns on her raunchy co-workers.
“We’ve got a problem with Meghan Carlson,” said HR manager Stu Capper. “She’s claiming sexual harassment.”
Stu had just called supervisor Keith O’Brien into his office, and Keith raised an eyebrow at the news. “That’s surprising.”
“Why is that surprising?” asked Stu.
“Because Meghan is just as much ‘one of the guys’ as anyone else in her department.”
‘She takes part in raunchy talk’
“How do you mean?” Stu asked.
“You know my department has some rough-and-tumble guys,” said Keith. “Some of their conversations occasionally veer toward being raunchy.”
“And where does Meghan fit in with all this?” asked Stu.
“Well, she actually joins in,” said Keith. “I was surprised when it started but now it’s sort of just become part of the work atmosphere.”
Now she’s complaining
“Hmm,” said Stu. “Well, one of ‘those guys’ who she joins in those talks with apparently said something out of line to her.
“It’s apparently upset her so much that she’s claiming harassment,” Stu added.
“You’re kidding,” Keith said. “I’ve heard Meghan say some rough stuff.
“If she didn’t want people to talk that way around her, maybe she shouldn’t talk the way she does,” he added.
If you were Stu, what would you say or do next?
What your peers had to say
A manager/part-owner from Pennsylvania
What she would do: I’d sit down with Meghan and the employee who harassed her.
I’d ask the male employee, “What were your intentions?” And I’d say to Meghan, “You’ve been with these guys for so long. Why complain now? Is it getting old? Are you putting up a front?”
Finally, I’d say to Meghan, “If this department isn’t suiting you or if you’re not comfortable, we will try to move you.”
Reason: We have to prevent this from going any further. The last thing we want is to end up in court, so we’re going to put it all out on the table and stop it here.
A VP HR director from Missouri
What she would do: First I’d interview people in Keith’s department to determine exactly what behavior has been taking place.
Then I’d call a department-wide meeting and re-educate everyone on our anti-harassment policy.
Reason: Even if these people are OK with their language and the content of their talks, other people who overhear it might be offended.
If we put an end to it now, we won’t have situations like Meghan’s in the future.
An HR director from Houston
What she would do: We’d talk with the employee who Meghan claims harassed her.
Then we’d talk with Meghan, concentrating on what she wants out of our response. How can we make it right?
Then we’d engage in mediation between Meghan and the employee.
Reason: Regardless of the “one of the guys” issue, we have an employee who’s claiming harassment, and we need to figure out what the end game is.