Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about about hearsay:
Can a supervisor question an employee on hearsay or is this a form of harassment?
Signed, To Question or Not To Question
Dear To Question or Not To Question:
You don’t say if you are the supervisor or the employee–but the answer is the same in either case: In your example, hearsay is something the supervisor hears from a third person about the actions of an employee. There are many times when a supervisor can question an employee based on something another employee reported. (A safety violation, being late, acting rude, talking about the boss and anything else an employee reports that the supervisor wants to find out more about.)
The only thing I can think of that could be considered harassment would be if the hearsay was purposely passed along and acted on to create a hostile work environment for a protected class of employee.(Based on gender, age, ethnicity, etc.)
When a supervisor investigates something that he or she is only hearing about through another employee, it is wise to question the reporting employee thoroughly enough to make sure all the facts have been reported and reported accurately. That way the supervisor can verify some of it or find out if there were witnesses.If it is one person’s word against another and no way to establish who is telling the truth, the supervisor may not seek a sanction or even warn the employee. However, an investigation should still be done–and that requires questioning the one employee based on the statements of another employee.
I should also mention that the way in which a supervisor questions an employee is crucial in any case, but especially if the supervisor is asking about something that was reported by another employee. The supervisor should not put the blame on the reporting employee, but should simply ask about the incident.”I understand you said you weren’t going to follow the procedure. What did you mean by that?”Or, “John, I’ve heard you were late yesterday. Tell me about what happened.”Or, “Maria, are you smoking in the building?” If nothing can be proven, the employee will at least have been warned by the questioning and will know the behavior would be wrong if it had been done.If the hearsay is incorrect the supervisor can go back to the other employee to find out why the report was made. Or, the supervisor may tell the reporting employee that no evidence was present and nothing can be done at the time. In that case, the supervisor will know to start observing more closely. I hope this provides the information you were seeking. Best wishes. If you have an HR person in your organization they could advise about this, or if the matter is potentially very serious you may want to consult an attorney.
Tina Lewis Rowe