I Upset A Coworker And She Filed A Complaint

Question:

I work in a corporate environment with stringent rules and regulations regarding sexual harassment, hostile work place, etc. I am in a training classroom setting currently. The training environment has been extremely lax and many comments have been very close to the line of acceptable behavior. I joined a class of nine others who have a brief history and have formed a clique. The trainer advised me during the first week that my classmates complained that I typed too loudly (they were testing and I was finished and responding to an interoffice email). I have had difficulty fitting in. The trainer also advised that “they” had complained that some of my comments were not funny and to be careful because she didn’t want anyone to be offended. There’s more, but that covers the essentials.

Earlier this week, the trainer lost her balance and accidentally grabbed the leg of another female classmate. I recall her apologizing twice by saying she really didn’t mean to grab her leg. The classmate responded with something to the effect of “are you sure?”. I was called upon to read next and said that I would if the trainer would grab my leg. She laughed (as did the classroom) and said no. Still laughing, I said something like “Oh, you only grab the leg of the people you like.” I honestly did not feel I was being untoward and that I was just going along with the “joke”.

Yesterday, I was called into a private meeting with the supervisor of the floor and he inquired about this comment. Until that moment, I didn’t even recall it happening!! Another very small comment came later that day with the same classmate and that was when she began acting angry, so the following morning, I apologized to her and advised that I thought I was being funny, but that the true test of the joke is the reaction of the recipient and I apologized for it. Asked for forgiveness, which she said she could do, and she walked away. When questioned, I thought this was the issue, not the grabbing comment. I explained my position to the supervisor and provided a little background (real estate management for last 20 years, well thought of by peers, very versed in workplace conduct, etc.). I told him that I didn’t realize it was improper and had I realized it I would have apologized for the correct issue. He met with her and our trainer last evening. Today, this classmate and two others were called out of class at different times to meet with this supervisor. The complaining classmate, the trainer, the other two classmates plus two other classmates have become very tight knit in the last 36 hours.

What should I do? I cannot afford to lose my job and certainly not for something I did not realize was wrong based on the permitted conduct in the classroom for the last 3.5 weeks…. any help?

Signed,

Can’t Afford To Lose My Job


Answer:

Dear┬áCan’t Afford To Lose My Job:

Unfortunately, corporate managers run scared. They are afraid of complaints that they condone acts and/or language that could be interpreted as sexual harassment. Rather than that, they nip it in the bud. Your characterization of what has happened illustrates that. Apparently, the complaints have prompted an investigation and the matter has escalated to a major concern. Will management let it pass? Can you do anything now? I don’t know. The exchange you describe about grabbing the trainer’s leg would be the kind of wit that would be much applauded on a talk show, but it seems to be painted in your mind, if not that of others in the class, as “sexually suggestive” and inappropriate for your corporate culture. Can you take back what you said in that instance with an apology? Perhaps, but probably not because trying to undo what was said only causes it to seen like bold type.

Time will tell. Hopefully the investigation that has already taken place will demonstrate you didn’t mean it as it might be seen in “get’er done” comedy. Hopefully, they will realize that the “give and take” permitted by the trainer was conducive to making training more effective. Hopefully, this whole thing will be a learning experience for all in the training class; learning that to complain over petty matters is a waste of time. Hopefully, this incident or incidents won’t sour training what should foster a collaborative mindset. Can you do anything more than what you have already done to explain that your remarks were playfully in keeping of what had gone on before and seemed acceptable to you? I don’t know. You can submit a defense of yourself if you are given a disciplinary reprimand and request that it be put in your file. But otherwise, say no more. This will not be elevated to a legal definition of sexual harassment or contributing to sexually hostile environment, unless you are to be fired and this banter is used as the reason for the firing. For now, it probably is best that you say little more about what has transpired.

Can you fit in? I don’t know. Probably it is not important that you feel you are part of a clique within the group now in training. What matters more is that you see your self and are seen by others as a responsible contributing member of your work group. What we have said many times to those who have sent question about troubled working relationships applies here; think team. Think about what will make the unit to which you are assigned look and feel good. Think WEGO. Saving face obviously now concerns you personally, but your task now is to let the past be past. To do that don’t obsess about what you can’t undo. Rather focus on the work that has to be done collaboratively; doing what makes those of you who work together feel proud and happy. Feel the satisfaction of what you accomplish together. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, is more than a signature sentence. It is an attitude and action. Follow Up: Thank you very much for your insight and great advice, Mr. Gorden. Prior to receiving your personal response, I did review several of the previous Q&A on your site.

Based on that advice, I did type up my “defense” as to what I feel occurred (who said what in a format to where it appears to look like a script for easy reading by others). I have this stored (and a printed copy in my purse) on the chance there is more fall out in the future over this situation.

I agree that my attention needs to be focused toward the group and also my goals. As I discussed with the supervisor, I will not participate in any “non-professional, non-work” related conversations, activities, etc. I began this approach on Friday and for me, it really worked much better as I was more focused on the work at hand rather than trying to be “entertaining” or “included” in the conversations.

I also recognized the supervisor apparently spoke with the trainer regarding the atmosphere of the classroom because for the first time since we began, she kept the class on task and did not take 15-20 minutes lapses in class to go off on a tangent with a classmate or entertain non-work-related commentary.

I passed the supervisor in the hall Friday, smiled and gave him a “thumbs up” to advise that I felt things were better regarding my only work-related participation.

I did attempt to speak with him Friday morning just to confirm all was well. He had not arrived and later in the morning he did approach me in the classroom setting to inquire about my visit to his desk (a coworker was present when I was attempting to speak with him and apparently she advised him I had been to his desk). I asked if I was to follow up with him following his conversation with the complaintant and he said there was no need.

Do you feel, even though the information I shared which happened in other classmates being interviewed after that conversation, that he was telling me it was resolved or that he just didn’t need to discuss anything with me at that time?

Again, I am grateful for your advice! I have never had a formal complaint of any kind filed against me in any type of work place in 26 years. I am really in a foreign area with this situation.

William Gorden