Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a complaint of a boss sent to the boss by mistake:
I’m in charge of HR and I was recently informed that an employee composed an email complaining about her supervisor. The employee said that the supervisor had such a look on her face that she “wanted to slap her.” The email was intended to be sent to a co-worker of the sender but by mistake was sent to the supervisor that was referenced in the email. Any suggestions on how should we deal with this?
Signed, Stuck With A Problem
Dear Stuck With A Problem:
Put this in the perspective of a verbal comment. Assume the employee was in the break room and said about her supervisor, “She had a look on her face that made me just want to slap her!” The supervisor overhears it and complains. Is there a policy or rule about that kind of comment? Apply it to the email message as well. If there isn’t a policy or rule, do you have one that refers to maintaining a respectful environment or treating each other with respect? Maybe you can apply that.If there is nothing formal that applies, I suggest you treat this like a discourteous outburst made by an employee directly to a person the employee dislikes.
Give the employee a warning or something similar, if it is her first action of this nature. If not, more serious action should be taken.The expression “I wanted to slap her face” isn’t a violent threat, it’s more of a figure of speech to express derision or contempt, combined with a desire to put someone in his or her place. So, really, although it was inappropriate, it doesn’t seem to me to rise to the level of more than a warning that is documented and that is reflected in the next performance evaluation. (If this is a first violation.)On the other hand, maybe the employee was just venting and trying to sound tough. So, the totality of the situation needs to be considered.Don’t just focus on the problem of using the email system inappropriately. That would imply it would have been OK if she had said it in the break room instead of using email for it.
You might want to refer to it as inappropriate communications or disrespectful communications, as a way to make it clear that it was the comment that was a problem, not the format. Of more importance is what caused the email outburst. That shouldn’t get lost in the process of correcting the inappropriate communication. It may be the message was written about a supervisor who is so unpleasant many people feel like the writer of the email! Or, it may be the employee has had many other problems and is resentful of any supervision. Perhaps it’s time to consider if she should stay employed. Whatever the circumstances, this needs to be investigated to find out what is going on and what led to this situation. One thing is for sure, the situation shouldn’t be allowed to continue without some intervention. I hope these thoughts were helpful to you. We’d be interested in how this is handled, so if you have the time and wish to do so, let us know the results.Best wishes!
Tina Lewis Rowe