Did I Create A Hostile Work Environment?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about charge of harassment: About 6 weeks ago, she wrote a letter to the plant manager stating I have been harassing her, calling her certain derogatory names.

Over two years ago I dated a female co-worker for a period of 3 months. It ended briefly, and I haven’t had much contact with her since we work rotating shifts and rarely together. About 6 weeks ago, she wrote a letter to the plant manager stating I have been harassing her, calling her certain derogatory names. She listed a number of employees who allegedly heard me say these things. Upon hearing this, I started asking some of the people on the list if they have heard me say these things, all but one said absolutely not. The one who spoke against me told me I said, “The reason the co-worker and I broke up is because her roommate told me she had been sleeping around.” This is true, I did make that statement, but never once made any comments to her or to anyone that were demeaning or in any way false.

HR and a company attorney conducted several interviews over a 6-week period, and recently shared the results. I was given a one-day suspension for “creating a hostile work atmosphere.” I was also told that it was inappropriate behavior to consult other employees in trying to defend myself. I was told that any further actions remotely close to this would result in immediate termination.

I did not sign the write-up yet because there was one paragraph that was completely false, which the HR rep said she would delete and get back to me.As for my history, I have been with this company over 5 years and have advanced quicker than anyone else, having no previous issues with any employees. In fact, I fill in for supervisors when the schedule dictates. Do I have options, or do I just sign this and take my suspension? Thanks for listening.

Signed, Dated A Co-Worker

Dear Dated A Co-Worker:

What have you learned from this? Hopefully you have learned that dating someone within your workplace can result in trouble. Also hopefully you have learned not to talk about someone else, even if it is true. Hopefully you have learned not to make things worse by quizzing those who have been listed as saying you harassed. Perhaps the lesson learned is: The less talk about personal matters at work is better.

Do you have to sign? I think you will be expected to sign if signing the HR statement indicates you have been informed of what was learned and determined after the investigation. If you disagree with what is stated you can submit a paragraph refuting that. Should you be suspended?

It seems to me that speaking ill of a former co-worker you dated, even if true, might merit some sort of discipline. Defamation is besmirching another’s character and if that harms her livelihood, you could be sued. Was it wise to repeat what this woman’s roommate said?

Did you do or say anything else that might have been construed as harassing? Maybe you didn’t, but apparently Sally, or whatever her name is, genuinely thought you were harassing her or simply did not want to hear from anyone that you reported she was sleeping around. So she reported you were harassing her. From now on, avoid her! Take the suspension.

Put this behind you and don’t make your suspension a matter of more conversation.Get on with your career. Be the kind of employee that adds value to your workplace. Become engaged in making it a productive and employee-friendly place to work. Scan some of our other Q&As, especially by my co-workplace doctor, Tina Rowe, and you will be impressed by her wisdom concerning situations much worse than yours. Stay focused on making your boss and co-workers look good. Time will heal your resentment. Think WEGO.

William Gorden