False Accusation Offensive Work Environment

Question:

My husband and a fellow female employee do not get along. This employee never does her job and shoves the blame off onto my husband. After a meeting with this employee and their boss yesterday in my husband’s office, on yet another project the employee had not completed, later in the day the boss tells my husband there was a “complaint” on a picture hanging in his office. The picture in question is one in a collage (done at a professional studio), in which I had my feet in heels taken. It was basically an empty slot and just a filler picture to complete the frame. This employee is claiming it made her “uncomfortable” even though the picture has been hanging for 4 months. Obviously, this was said out of spite and didn’t truly offend her. My husband’s boss made him take the collage down, as it is all one big picture. What can we do?

Signed,

Falsely Accused


Answer:

Dear Falsely Accused:

I think it will benefit your husband to keep this in perspective and not let it become more significant than it needs to be. I certainly can understand that it would be frustrating, but it is not worthy of creating a dispute with his manager about it–and that is what he would be doing if he protests the manager’s direction to him.

It may be that the coworker was looking for something to lash out at your husband about. She was being put on the spot about work and she may have wanted to show the manager that she wasn’t the only one who did wrong things. Or, she may have wanted to point out to the manager that she has trouble working with your husband because of his actions, and the photo was an example of how his style, values and manner create discomfort for her. Or, she may genuinely have felt uncomfortable, but has never said anything until now. (I realize that seems doubtful, but it is an option.)

In a business office any items are subject to review by managers and supervisors and employees can be asked to remove the items for a variety of reasons. Recently a manager I know asked an employee to remove excessive sports items from his office because they were a distraction. So, if the manager asks your husband to remove something, the easiest way to deal with it is to remove it.

I don’t know what the photo looked like or how obvious it was in the collage, but a photo of a foot in a high heel has more of a sexual connotation to some people than to others. It obviously was not taken or displayed to bring back fond memories of the shoe! So, it could fall within the category of photos or items that are not standard family photos or memorabilia, and the manager was correct in asking your husband to remove it.

Perhaps your husband can replace it with something less evocative of gender and sexuality and return the collage to his office. The important issue is how your husband and the coworker will continue working together. He may consider her the problem, but he should be careful to not become a problem himself, in the way he interacts with her and responds about her.

Encourage him to keep his focus on doing his own work well and treating every coworker with respect and courtesy. He doesn’t have to pretend that she is a friend or that he respects her work, he simply has to do his best to communicate effectively with her and get the work done.

It sounds as though the manager is well aware of the situation. So, your husband should let the manager deal with the coworker. Your husband’s responsiblity is to do his own work well, then let the manager know if there are problems. If the coworker says or does something that is an attempt to push work off on your husband, he should ask her to go with him to the manager right then to deal with it. If something the coworker does or doesn’t do is going to have a negative effect on your husband’s work he should bring that to the attention of the manager immediately (as it sounds like he did in tis recent situation.)

The main thing is that he not be seen as causing problems himself. I think he will be well advised to review his own behavior and make sure he is not involved in a back and forth battle with the coworker. He may want to ask others at work if they can see anything he is doing that might create extra hostility. He may want to talk to his manager and find out if he is being viewed as part of the problem or part of the solution.

I’m not implying that your husband IS part of the problem. But, many, many times work conflicts become personal battles and both people end up looking poorly. Your husband should be viewed by everyone as the one person who is focused on work and professional behavior. He should not tolerate inappropriate actions by the coworker, not should her do work that isn’t his just to keep her in a good mood or to cover for her. But within his ability to be courteous, respectful and cooperative, he should do all he can to get work done effectively. He should not do anything that blocks the coworker from doing her work well. You can support your husband best by encouraging him to leave the conflict at work. I know spouses can’t help but talk about work issues, but there should be a time limit for those conversations. Nothing can be solved at home and after awhile angry work issues becomes the focus of home conversations. Not good!

This shoe photo issue is obviously symptomatic of the much bigger issue. The manager needs to intervene to find out exactly what is happening and what changes need to be made to get the workplace back on the right path. Then, the manager should take strong action to make those things happen, whoever they involve. I hope that happens for everyone’s sake! Best wishes to you and your husband. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what results with this over time.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.