He said …He said

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about threats: Employee A waited 3 weeks before reporting anything to his supervisor, at which point Employee A got a restraining order against Employee B.

I have an employee(Employee A) who claims another employee(Employee B) threatened him with a knife 3 times within a month(no witnesses). Employee A waited 3 weeks before reporting anything to his supervisor, at which point Employee A got a restraining order against Employee B.

This made it impossible for the both of them to continue working. We (Upper Management) don’t believe it actually happened. We put them both on suspension without pay until the restraining order is lifted. Employee A tends to be very dramatic and Employee B can get easily frustrated but never threatening. (The knife was a company issued work knife and Employee B says he took it out as a joke to pretend to attack a piece of equipment, then put it away.) They’re in the construction trade and have to work together alone. They haven’t gotten along for awhile, but it wasn’t this bad before.What can you suggest as the best way out of this?

Signed, Frustrated

DearĀ Frustrated:

If you have not already done so, I think you should seek input from an attorney about your liability situation if the two go back to work together, and how you might be able to reduce it. If you haven’t investigated this, do so thoroughly, with the hope that you CAN find out what happened. One thing that helps is to interview each person and have them act out precisely what the other person did, while you act their part as they direct you. I have often found that stories break down or are substantially diluted when someone is faced with the reality of talking and acting like they say really happened.

For most people, it’s difficult to lie to that extreme. If they are coming back, require some mediating discussions and require them to sign memos of agreement about how they will act when they return. My personal feeling is that Employee B probably has been allowed to act frustrated and angry too many times, and it has become habitual. Employee A may just have become tired of it, and if he tends to over-dramatize things, he may not be able to handle conflict well anyway.

So, that brings us to this: Did Employee A try to get help for problems before this most recent incident? Talk to his direct supervisor or manager and see what has been done in the past. It may be this restraining order was a way to get the attention of everyone. In that case, the supervisor needs to be the one to be talked to severely. There is too much liability involved for companies to not deal with conflict between employees, when it is apparently building to this degree.

I wish you could find a way for them to not work together when they return! That seems to be asking for trouble unless some big changes in their styles take place. If they will be back at work, have a documented series of actions:

1.) Talk with each honestly about how frustrated you are that things have come to this point. Talk about what they have done to add to the problem or how they should have handled it differently to get a better result. The reality is that neither side was right in the way this was handled.

2.) Promise to work with them to resolve the sources of problems and frustrations at work.

3.) Tell Employee B that he will no longer be allowed to act our his frustrations like that.

4.) Consider asking both of them if they would go to professional counseling on conflict management, then find a source for them.

5.) Have them sign an agreement about what they need from the other person in the way of behavior, and what they will do in return. Work with them to develop that to a reasonable extent. And make sure they understand what YOU require from them….or else. That kind of reminder is sometimes needed. When they were hired, what would they have thought was expected in these situations? They should be responding at their best at this point, not worse.

6.) Have the supervisor interact with them often to make sure things are going well.

7.)Keep them so busy they don’t have time for this type of foolishness! I don’t know all the circumstances of this situation of course, and it could be that the managers and supervisors involved have done all they could to ensure the employees did not get to this point. But, that certainly is a responsibility. And, you can see the havoc that has been created by letting it go unattended. I always mention the old adage, “Your employer doesn’t own your attitude, but your paycheck rents your behavior.”

That goes for supervisors too!(I could be feeling too sternly about that. But, it is often the case in long term disputes.) Hopefully this will become better and you will find a way to bring them back to the job as well as help them solve the problems that brought them to this point. That would be a great accomplishment! Dr. Gorden often talks about WEGO–working together with heads, hearts and hands to build the team. That is always a good approach! Best wishes! If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens in this unusual situation.

Tina Lewis Rowe