Correct A Past Mistake Or Start Over!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about failure to show up for a job and losing the chance to work for this agency again:

I moved to the Louisville area in 1992. I had been looking for work and I wasn’t familiar with the area. I had gone to Robert Half and Accountemps who had sent me on an assignment. In trying to find the job. I got lost and didn’t show up for work. I had called Accountemps to let them know that I got lost. They were a bit mean to me and told me that I couldn’t use their services again. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the incident and gone back to them and they had taken personal information from me and told me that they would help.

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She’s Trying To Get Me Fired!

Question:

I work for a nonprofit organization at a location with another organization. Over the past several month’s a management member from the other organization has been trying to get me fired by: asking customer’s to write complaints about me, expressing in committee meetings my uncaring attitude about my job, calling me a little girl in these meetings, saying I’m doing childish thing’s like hiding thing’s from her, and her staff, letting my supervisor run my game, saying she can’t get a hold of me when she needs to, involving shared employees to the degree they are all walking on egg shells, asking her staff that is present to write notes about conversations they overheard which almost always in some way get special treatment for doing so.

I believe a select few are taking advantage of her control issues to get special treatment. Now she’s taking all of her made up and unsupported concerns to her boss who in turn is constantly going to mine. My boss is telling me that he’s aware she’s just trying to get me fired. The other day though I received word from my boss that they feel my supervisor of nine years is a big part of the problem and wants her let go even though she hasn’t had write ups or any disciplinary actions for the duration of her employment. He also wants me to hire someone with a manager’s license as my new supervisor and backup manager.

I believe that my employment will end as soon as this new person is trained. This woman is never even present at my game time. I believe she’s a bully and uses bullying tactics in the work place. My stress level has been thru the roof for months now it’s affecting my job performance, my home life, and my health. I’ve in the last three weeks I’ve experienced panic attacks, depression, irritable bowels, and insomnia. The inability to not constantly prepare for the next attack has made me overly sensitive and very reactionary along with being constantly fearful for my job, I would love to just quit, but financially it is impossible. We have four young children. I work three days a week. To make what I do at this job, I would have to take full time work that isn’t an option considering they are out of school, and we couldn’t afford the daycare.

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Fellow Supervisor Spread Rumors I Am On Drugs!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about accused of drug use:

I am a supervisor, and a fellow supervisor has been spreading rumors that I am on drugs. She is jealous of my position and believes I have taken her position. Then rumors are getting out of control what can I do?

Signed, Subject to Slander

Dear Subject to Slander:

You do not say the type of size of your organization, but if there are two supervisors you both likely have a manager. This is an issue that management should be involved with as well. As I will mention later, this is apparently only one part of a much more complex problem. Also, ask yourself why she would be able to even suggest such as thing as drug use on your part. That is not something that is usually made-up without any indications. Among the reasons people accuse someone of drug use are: Absences, strange behavior, unfocused behavior, poor work, loss of control emotionally, over-talking or depression, lack of care about personal appearance, unusual actions such as going to the car often or meeting people outside the building, physical reactions such as shaking sniffing, coughing or scratching and moodiness–especially going from very cheerful to very quiet in a few hours, repeatedly. If you have situations that are causing some of those behaviors it could be that she is not the only one who thinks you are using drugs!

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When Is A Written Warning Not A Written Warning?

Question:

A co-worker was taken to one side to be given a verbal warning. This was followed up 4 days later by a harsh letter, but the title of the letter was verbal warning, not written warning. The employers are claiming the letter was not a written warning, but a recording of the verbal warning. When is a written warning not a written warning please?

Signed,

Disability Adviser

Answer:

Dear Disability Adviser:

Your question is frequently asked! From the viewpoint of human emotions, any warning that appears in writing is written. But from an organizational and legal perspective that is not the case.

The terms written warning and verbal warning do not refer to the pieces of paper but to a stage in the progressive discipline policy of a company. Stages of progressive discipline are required for legal support of management disciplinary actions and so is documentation. There may be times when a situation is so serious that a supervisor can jump over one stage and go directly to another one, but for most performance or behavior issues, the stages are effective for correcting behavior without serious punitive action. Here is an overview of what I teach on the subject, and it reflects best practices in most settings, whether in the U.S. or the U.K.:

The three first steps to correction of undesirable behavior or performance:

1. Verbal counseling is an attempt by a supervisor to redirect behavior by discovering root causes and allowing the employee an opportunity to discuss mitigation. The picture of verbal counseling is, for most of us, less tense and more supportive and often is part of informal supervisor/employee interactions. Verbal counseling may or may not formally documented according to the nature of the conversation. For example, a supervisor might verbally counsel someone over coffee and tell him or her that he is concerned about a behavior and wants to know what is going on. That counseling would not require official documentation, but an email to the employee thanking him for his openness and supporting improved behavior, would provide informal documentation. A note in the supervisor’s planner that a conversation took place might also be considered documentation. Documentation at some level is important to establish that an attempt was made by the supervisor to correct performance in a supportive way.

A possible documentation email: Dear Karen, Our conversation yesterday about you not leaving your worksite early was a very important one. I felt good about the fact that you understood the importance of your job and how much you are needed, right until work is done at 4 p.m.

Yesterday when I saw you putting your things away before closing time, I was concerned. You could have gotten in serious trouble if you had left early. If you have a situation in the future that you think will require you to leave early, please ask me several days in advance if possible and I’ll do what I can to help you adjust your schedule. The important thing is that we actively communicate and I felt we were able to do that yesterday.

As I told you yesterday, I appreciate your good work and especially your courtesy to clients who need assistance.

2. A verbal warning is the first step in the progressive discipline program of most organizations. It is directed at specific behavior with a warning that if the behavior continues more serious action will take place. Often a supervisor on-site has already corrected the employee and immediately or close to the time of the event, so the verbal warning will be the second time the matter has been discussed, but it is necessary to establish the progressive discipline stages. The supervisor on behalf of management and at their direction administers the Verbal Warning.

A verbal warning should be as well-planned as a written warning, in that it should be given in private setting with documentation made and kept in the employee’s file until a purge date, as well as given to the employee.

The documentation does not constitute a written warning for the purpose of progressive discipline, it is precisely what is says: A documentation (written record) to prove that the employee was warned once, and it is required if ever the employer has to prove that an employee was given a chance to correct their behavior. It is not the format of the documentation that makes a warning written or verbal, but rather the stage of the progressive discipline program that has been reached.

The documentation should only cover the issues that were covered in the verbal warning and when possible should be given at the time of the verbal warning rather than being written afterwards. The advantage of writing it afterwards is that the supervisor can document the nature of the interview that took place at the time of the verbal warning. The disadvantage of writing it afterwards and sending it to the employee, is that it keeps bringing up an issue that may have already been resolved.

The verbal warning documentation should be brief but can be less formally written than an official written warning: Dear Karen Rider, The purpose of this letter is to provide a written record of the Verbal Warning you received from me today, June 23, 2005. Yesterday, on June 22, 2005 I saw that you had left the worksite before quitting time, which is a violation of RR 302- Leaving Worksite Without Permission. I tried to contact you by cell phone but was unable to do so. When I talked to you today you said you had a doctors appointment at 4:30 on June 22, and left work early to get there on time.

On May 10th, 2005 I counseled you about making sure you stay at your worksite until closing time because I had seen you putting your things away ten minutes before closing and had directed you to return to your work activities. At that time you said you understood that you should not leave work early. I instructed you to ask permission if you felt you needed to leave.

When I gave you the official Verbal Warning today, I again instructed you to ask for permission to leave early in the future. I also told you that if you leave without permission again you could be subject to more serious discipline in our progressive discipline program. This Verbal Warning will be in effect for one year from today.

Please contact me if you have questions about this documentation or the issues to which it refers.

3. A written warning is the next step in the progressive discipline program. Often the employee has been given an immediate verbal correction or reprimand and told not do an action again or to improve work. That supervisory correction is not part of the official discipline process. The official Written Warning (I capitalize it to show it is official) is part of the formal organizational process and is usually given on the instructions of HR or managers. The written warning is given in a private interview or mailed to the employee. The private interview is much better, in that allows a continuing relationship with the supervisor.

The written warning is more formal: Dear Karen Rider, This is an official Written Warning about your violation of RR-302, Leaving Worksite Without Permission. On June 23, 2005 you were given an official Verbal Warning about the same violation. At that time you were told that further violations could result in progressively more severe discipline. Yesterday, on June 26 you were not at your worksite at 4 p.m. Investigation disclosed that you left work at 3:50 p.m. When I contacted you on your cell phone you said you had a family function to attend. At that time it was 4:05 p.m. and I did not order you to return to your worksite since your workday was officially over.

You were in violation of RR-302 for the second time in two weeks. This Written Warning advises you that if you violate this rule again you may be subject to more severe action, including dismissal. This Written Warning will be in effect for two years from today.

If you have questions about this matter you may direct them to me or to Bill Edwards, Director of Human Resources.

So, those are the first three stages…each resulting in something in writing to the employee, but each called something different: Verbal counseling, verbal warning, written warning.

I hope that is helpful to you. I know that many employees perceive the written documentation of a verbal action as a written action. Usually once they understand that the terms verbal and written in this context refer to a stage in a process rather than a format, they accept it, even if they do not agree with it.

Incidentally, you ought to SEE how complicated this gets when an organization has unofficial counseling, such as I mentioned and also Official Verbal Counseling, Verbal Warning, Written Warning, Verbal Reprimand, Written Reprimand, Written Intervention and finally, Performance Improvement Plan! Every one of those seems to the employee to be about the same thing, but they all have a different function. Actually, they are all designed to keep the employee from going higher in the disciplinary levels by changing the behavior that is a problem.

Apparently there are other issues operating in the matter about which you are concerned, and I hope those get worked out as well.

Tina Lewis Rowe The Workplace Doctors Both oral and written communication is important in establishing a WEGO working relationship. Each has its sequential role in policy and practice.

Follow Up: Thank you for your explanation I can see the point you are making. What would be the status a letter which is considered much more formal and harsh in tone than the examples you give and which outline aspects which were not included in the informal verbal interview and which also indicates a possibility of dismissal? I would appreciate your thoughts on this. This seems to me to be bridging two steps in the process. This is the message I sent back to Ms. Hall and the thanks she sent back to me.

You asked: What would be the status of a letter which is considered much more formal and harsh in tone than the examples you give and which outline aspects which were not included in the informal verbal interview and which also indicates a possibility of dismissal? I would appreciate your thoughts on this. This seems to me to be bridging two steps in the process.

Without knowing the circumstances, let me use the same situation I mentioned before….Ms. Rider, who left her worksite early. Here’s something she might receive: ****************** Dear Karen Rider, This letter is to inform you that your actions of leaving your worksite early as you did yesterday, June 22, will not be tolerated and may make you subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal.

This action not only indicates your lack of compliance with rules, but also an apparent attitude about respect for the organization. Further, your work has been less than standard in several areas and you have failed to correct those deficiencies when they were brought to your attention.

There must be a change in your attitude and behavior if you intend to remain with Widget Corporation. Starting today and for the next two weeks you will be receiving training materials regarding rules and regulations via email which you will be expected to read, print and sign to indicate your understanding, then return them to your supervisor for filing. You are also hereby notified that any violation of rule of regulation will be considered in the light of these recent events.

********************* THAT would be more harsh, include things not mentioned in the first situation and clearly indicating that the employee is on her last legs with the company. Here is the way I would consider that, based on what the letter to which you refer contains: 1. If it outlines steps required for improvement, especially if there are indications of supervisory involvement, I’d call it a Reprimand and Performance Improvement Plan, which is usually the last step before either the employee improves or is dismissed.

2. If it only reprimands, I’d call it a Written Reprimand, but I would say it should not include things that have not been investigated and proven or were not discussed with the employee.

If the employee has had several things discussed with her in the past, there might be a reason to include it, to say, “See? All these things are piling up!” That would not require recent conversations about it. Sometimes a supervisor will warn someone, then think about it or talk about it to the boss and they take it much more seriously. Next thing you know, the matter has escalated far past what it started to be.

Here’s my general view: Unless there are union issues involved……or even if there are…….. the most important thing is to get the underlying problems cleared up. I would like the employee to ask for a meeting with the supervisor who corrected her and the HR staff, and find out just what is going on. Or, just to the supervisor if she thinks that would help. The easiest way, is to say, “I see what you mean about you viewing this as a written documentation of a verbal warning. But it sounds much harsher to me, no matter what it is called officially, and it mentions things my you didn’t talk to me about before. How serious is the problem? Am I on the verge of being dismissed? If I am, what can I do to make things better? I don’t want to feel that I’m teetering on the edge and I know I’m trying to do good work. So, can you help me understand this better?”

Or something like that. The key is to let them know there is a concern and that the employee wants to know where she stands. Often when that is confronted supervisors and managers hasten to say that no, there is no risk to employment. Or, they say yes there is and at least the employee knows how bad things are!

Before that, the employee would benefit from listing the things that have already been said to her about problems and what she has done to respond to those. That would be a good thing to bring up in the meeting if she can show she has made an effort to correct issues.

I say that, because I would doubt this is the very first time there has been a conflict with the supervisor or with management. Usually things don’t jump from fine to rotten that quickly! In the meantime, look at company policies about progressive discipline and see if that might give you an idea of where things are. If they hadn’t said it was a verbal warning, I might have thought they’d jumped to a higher level right away….and that’s sometimes the right thing to do. But if they say it’s at the lowest level of discipline it makes one wonder what would be worse! (I’m making a value judgment based on what you said, of course, but you seem to be reporting carefully and accurately.)

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Can’t Meet Deadlines Because Of Co-worker!

Question:

For the past several years a coworker has not been doing her job and it has started to affect my job. I have gotten in trouble for not meeting deadlines, but it is due to the coworker not completing her part. I am not authorized to do her job, so I must wait for her to complete the work.

I have talked with her, my boss, her boss, and the bosses’ boss. For some reason they refuse to deal with her. I make sure that I information all parties when my job will be delayed because of her not completing her part. I hate having to tell customers that I am behind and will complete the work as soon as possible. Others have complained and still nothing is done. I work for a very large company and upper management levels are located in other states, but I have submitted paperwork to them advising status and still nothing has changed. This problem has gone on for years and yet nothing has changed and has even gotten worse. It has gotten so bad, that my own health has suffered. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Woman Machinist Fired!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about gender discrimination & wrongfully terminated: I was fired yesterday-because I wasn’t coming along fast enough. I told them it was unfair; it was discriminatory and they damn well knew what I was lacking.

If you can, give me advice. It would be much appreciated. I believe I have been the victim of gender discrimination & wrongfully terminated. Scratch that: I was the victim of gender discrimination and I was wrongfully terminated. This is a fairly long story.

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Plant Manager Talks But Doesn’t Enforce Safety!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about safety:

We have a safety policy at our shop, but it is only followed when it is convenient to get rid of somebody. They want to preach safety but when it comes time to pay the price for safety they want to put price caps on it. A guy just got fired for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The situation was no different than any other day. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The problem starts clear at the top. The plant manager preaches safety and explains he will fire anyone that he catches not following the rules, but he is one of the main violators along with a lot of the managers below him. What can you do?

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Boss Over-rides My Firing Office Flirt!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about flirting employee:

A year ago we hired a lovely young lady who recently moved to our area because he husband accepted a position with a large firm. This young lady is very attractive, young, delightful personality and a good worker.

A few months after she started working with us she began having affairs with co-workers and vendors. She brought nude pictures of herself to work and was emailing them from the computer at her desk. She wears extremely provocative clothing and flirts with every single male who comes in. It doesn’t matter to her if the object of her desire is married, as it didn’t matter to her that she was married either. She started messing around with a long time employee who is married and has a young child. Now this long time employee is getting a divorce.

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Set Up! Harassed! Now Name Is Mud!

Question:

I don’t know if you have quite encountered this one before. What do you think would happen if, after obvious and even public sexual harassment, the harasser could be convinced to change his behavior? Then everything’s hunky dory, right? Well, not exactly. About 4 years ago a well meaning (but VERY misguided) female coworker attempted to “set me up” with a male colleague on the job, in the lunchroom. She actually made up quite a compelling (and belittling) tale about my personal life in an attempt to circumvent the “H–l NO” I of course gave.

The situation was further complicated for me being a single mom and in a field where I end up working with a lot of the same people from one company to another. I’m in collections, and call centers are notorious for being less than professional. I refused. The guy persisted, with subtle and insidious innuendo. I confronted him, to no avail. He’s, well, very “extroverted” and quickly gained popularity there, while me, the workaholic who keeps to herself, has only ever had a few loyal friends at work. I left the company after being subject to all kinds of hostility from everyone BUT this guy, believing naively that my rejection of his advances and the hostility I received from numerous coworkers was unrelated.

About a year later I was unemployed, I had moved out of state and back again, and the company I had worked for was hiring. I called my old manager, she seemed supportive, and I returned. Now this same male coworker, the one whose advances I had refused, had been promoted, and I was placed on his team immediately after training. After several months of harassment, I finally got through to him that this behavior was not ok with me. I was soon transferred to another team. About a year later, the same supervisor approached me, and to make a long story short, I was being transferred back to his team. My performance wasn’t what it should be, and if I don’t accept the transfer there’s really nothing the company y can do.

He had by that time been promoted to supervisor of a specialty team designed to turn around employees who are not meeting goal but are considered valuable enough to keep. I talked to him and believed he would not again harass me in any way. He didn’t, but he did completely neglect to do his job. He has a habit of being involved with one subordinate or another, and on this team were his latest girlfriend, and then a good male buddy of his.

Well, I survived, after having to take a number of his “mistakes” including writing me up for performance where his math was plain wrong to the branch manager at the time. That was almost a year ago. I have gotten by, but my performance has never returned to what it was pre-harassment, and now I am working under a the same female manager I had when I worked there before, who happens to be his friend of 10 years. It seems like everyone here is this guy’s buddy. Most of them witnessed his harassment of me; some of them even encouraged it. I never filed a complaint,

I’m a single mom receiving no child support, and both coworkers, and even managements attitudes have been that his harassment of me was very amusing. I did not find it amusing. This man used very foul and abusive language, and spread degrading slander about my sex life. I have confronted him about this, and to my relief he has long since stopped, although I have no real way of knowing if he is still spreading ugly rumors about me or not. I have also at times succumbed to all the negativity around me, and I suppose my own anger, and occasionally made the horrendous mistake of answering questions coworkers have asked (often in an insulting way) and actually calling the harassment what it was.

Most of my coworkers seem to believe that there was some sort of failed relationship, not the case. Also, many of my coworkers are hostile towards me, and of course, the common myth that “she asked for it” persists. They act like I walked up here in fishnet! Stockings and stiletto heels! I’m an average looking, somewhat overweight chick with glasses. Hello! The hostility I am faced with due to this interferes in my work, in a job where we have to be able to depend on each other. I am ostracized and alienated. I feel that my job maybe my whole career is ruined. This isn’t fair. If I even drop a hint that I’m having problems, I get shushed pretty quickly. Or outright blamed. This whole place knows this story (he repeated it often enough) why are they so insensitive? I haven’t gotten HR involved, although I have had to go to them when a girlfriend of his became hostile with me out of nowhere and when a female coworker of mine kept bullying me.

I have never hinted to HR about the sexual harassment, but supervisors who I’ve worked with for a while and who witnessed it have made various comments to me, some sympathetic, some supportive, and some accusatory. My current supervisor seems sympathetic, but she doesn’t seem to respect me much, and my manager has said things that sounded like she was accusing ME of seducing HIM. The nature of the gossip he spread about me is that he was just trying to “help me out” with a problem with men and sex? Obvious negative female sexual stereotype, only he’s the kind to believe in those, and so are many of my coworkers. I’ve tried being positive, I’ve tried ignoring it (the harassment, until that didn’t work, then the gossip) to no avail. I’ve recently tried being more assertive, only to be met with aggressiveness by my coworkers.

There’s also an issue of race, in that most of the gossiping coworkers are black women, I am white, and I hate to think it comes down to that, but there are some difficult feelings that I think the black women there wants to express about white women, and they use me as some kind of example. There are also cultural differences in attitudes regarding sex. There is also a lot of favoritism in the office for women that have affairs with superiors, and the company is way too forgiving of that. It’s made for a really demeaning atmosphere.

Now they suddenly changed the employee handbook, making it against company policy for a supervisor and their direct subordinate to be involved. I guess because of that case in California? Change is slow. Now that my name has been turned to mud I genuinely fear that this shadow will follow me to another company. It’s likely in this field. I might as well make my stand right here. I just don’t know if that’s going to be trying to turn this around, or how, or if I really need to think about legal action? I have to file a report to do that; don’t I? It’s too late to report the male coworker but what about all the comments I am still inundated with from the rest of the staff, including my own female supervisor? Now I know, if it ever happens again, run to HR! These are the repercussions of trying to be nice and working it out amicably? It’s almost as bad as the actual harassment! Best regards.

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An Unhappy Challenge to Hiring

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about personal relationships and work:

The dilemma I have at work with a colleague is that she developed a companionship (she is married) with an adult male student on placement (in a relationship but recently divorced) during his placement. That became apparent at work, and they showed their closeness as friends at work. Now in the future, we will likely be facing this former student applying for work with us. Do we consider the relationship that has developed and that is still going on now (colleague talks about it at work), or does it not matter?

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