Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about rumors:
I was told a rumor by an associate who is known for telling rumors. Normally I wouldn’t pay any attention to this, except for the severity of the rumor and for the fact that it involved my boss and it was implying that he was having a sexual relationship with one of my male associates. Naively, I went to my immediate supervisor with the information because I had faith in her to handle it discreetly.
Obviously this is a much bigger matter than that and should go directly through HR. My question is, now they want me to write a statement of what I was told and I am uncomfortable getting any further involved. Can I be fired or disciplined for refusing to write a statement?
Signed, Caught In the Middle
Dear Caught In the Middle:
You could be disciplined or fired for refusing to obey a directive from your supervisor and manager or HR, and for not cooperating in a significant HR investigation. Whether your company would fire you for that is another thing. That would be a decision made at a higher level, in part by the boss who was being gossiped about. One reason to get a written statement is to clarify the exact words, now that you have had time to think about it and take the emotion of the moment out of it. This also avoids you having to make a verbal statement repeatedly. It is also better than having them rely on your supervisor’s hearsay statement of what she remembers you saying to her about the situation. For all you know, the emotion and excitement about it skewed her memory and she didn’t quote you correctly.
If you’re worried about slight differences between what you said and what actually happened, keep this in mind: Sometimes when a person makes their initial, verbal statement, they are telling the story with emotion. They aren’t trying to give an exact transcription, they are conveying how they felt and what they thought was meant, in addition to what was said. You can start your written statement by saying that you were upset at the time the coworker made remarks to you about rumors regarding your boss, so you weren’t trying to remember her exact words. You were more interested in telling your supervisor how upset you were that such rumors existed. So, although you don’t remember the exact words or tone of voice used by the other employee, you will do your best to be precise.
That way, if there is a difference between this written statement and what your supervisor remembers you saying, it will be explained. I realize that there is discomfort about making a statement that may result in a semi-friend at work getting in trouble. Even if you don’t like her rumor-mongering, it’s hard to be the cause of her being punished about it this time, and you may have joined in on the speculation yourself. She may mention that in her own statement. The difference is that you did something to stop the rumor. Whatever you said at the time, you didn’t continue the gossip. Just remember that you are not the only one she told it to and you wouldn’t be the last. Further, if she said it was a rumor, that means others are saying it too, so it all needs to be stopped. Your coworker may be an otherwise OK person, but you can bet she has harmed or hurt people with her rumors and she needs to stop that harmful habit. In addition, gossip or rumors about a person’s sexual activities can be considered sexual harassment, according to the circumstances.
Women have worked hard to stop gossip and speculation at work about sexual issues related to women. Women also must stop such rumors about men. We often get tearful and upset letters from women who have been the subject of rumors and they wonder why their coworkers allow it to happen. The reason is that, as much as most of us say we don’t like hearing such rumors, we also don’t want to be known as someone who can’t be trusted to stay quiet about the source. That’s why it’s so hard to know who started an untruth or half-truth (or the truth that should not have been talked about). I’m sure you didn’t think your supervisor would reveal her source, and you may have felt a bit upset that she did. But, she did the right thing. I’m also sure you’re sorry you are in the middle of this. But, you are there now and you can only move forward and get past it. You are being asked to clarify and state with accuracy, what was said to you.
The rest is up to others. Best wishes to you with this. It will be uncomfortable for awhile, then something else will take its place at work. You’ll be respected more by those above you and your coworkers who may have been burned by rumors themselves will be glad something was finally done about it. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out for you. Keep strong about it, knowing that you are not doing anything wrong, rather you are righting a wrong.
Tina Lewis Rowe