Co-Workers Angry That My Complaint Led to a Termination

A question to the Workplace Doctors about how to respond to anger over the termination of a coworker.

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I have worked with a toxic coworker for three years. Recently he brought a knife to work and threatened me with it. My company investigated and terminated him. Now a few of my teammates are angry at me and there have been insinuations that I went to HR because of the other employee’s race. Some say I was motivated by jealousy. How do I handle the aftermath like a professional?

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Answer:

The most professional way to handle rumors and griping from co-workers is to keep moving forward: Do good work, be helpful and pleasant and seek assistance from your manager if the remarks become such a distraction that your effectiveness suffers.

You will not be able to argue people into supporting you or even to stop making comments to others about it. If you aren’t allowed to discuss why the employee was fired, perhaps you can at least say something generic like, “I’m not allowed to tell you what I reported, but I can assure you, you would have done the same thing.”

If they know what you reported, surely they will know why you had to report the former teammate. If, knowing that, they still feel you were wrong, it shows they are ignorant of workplace violence indicators. (Maybe tied into their ages or their workplace experience?) Or, maybe there were already problems between you and them, so this gave them one more thing to talk about.

Your calm and professional behavior may at least let them know you are not one who gets angry and gets revenge–which is what they’re accusing you of doing. Instead, you are the kind of person who focuses on your job and on being a productive and pleasant person. If you had a generally good working relationship with people prior to this, hopefully they will recall those better times. If your relationships were not good, maybe you can use this to mend those fences.

Consider discussing the situation with your manager and asking him or her for suggestions. They would know your situation best and also know the people involved. They may be willing to  talk about workplace violence at a staff meeting, as a way to show support for your actions, even if they cannot directly discuss the personnel action involved.  (If I was a manager I would view their behavior as a problem and talk to them individually about their options–straighten up or find another job!)

If you want to keep working there you will need to find a way to move through this time. Asking someone on the outside for advice, as you did by writing to us, is one way to do that. I imagine you knew what we would probably say and had said it to yourself already.

The best way to refute the accusation that you had a racial bias is to ensure that you never, ever say or do anything that reinforces that kind of thinking. The best way to refute the accusation of jealousy is to work cooperatively and helpfully with everyone, including the person who replaces the person who was terminated. Let your positive and good-natured behavior do the talking for you and after a while it won’t be easy for those who are upset with you now to find anything to justify their grudge against you.

Best wishes to you as you deal with this. The same strength of character you showed in the past situation can help you in this one.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things develop over time and how you were able to find a successful resolution. Your experiences may be helpful for others who write to us.

Tina Rowe
The Workplace Doctors