Should I Investigate Before I Discpline?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about:

In my workplace an employee I supervise was observed by another supervisor, violating a rule about having a coffee cup without a lid. The supervisor talked about it to another employee, who said she would talk to the employee about it. When she did, the employee got angry and used some obscenities and some physical movement to indicate he didn’t care about what the supervisor said. Then, he put a label on his coffee cup that said, “Don’t fret. There’s a lid on this cup.”When the supervisor saw this he asked the employee who had talked to her coworker, what was said, and she said “You don’t want to know!” But, she added the remarks, while not very nice or professional did not offend her.

The supervisor went to HR and now they want me to write up the employee with the coffee cup. I said I need to find out what was said first, but they insist I write him up based on what the supervisor thinks the one employee heard! Can we require that employee to tell us what she heard? Should I write this up without investigating more? My manager has told me to do it, but that doesn’t seem right.

Signed, Stuck in the middle

Dear Stuck in the middle:

I agree with you that there is no way to take corrective action about something you know so little about. I’m surprised your HR section has supported this, if the facts are as you say.You and I have emailed about this matter to clarify it, and it appears this is part of the management style right now. You seem to have very little choice in the matter, since you have been ordered to write up a reprimand.It seems all three people behaved badly. The supervisor was wrong to not talk to the employee directly or to come to you about it. He was wrong to talk to a coworker of the employee. And, he was wrong to not investigate on his own.The coworker was wrong to get involved in something that was corrective and she was wrong to not fully report what happened.The employee was wrong to react in anger and should have gone to you about it instead. The label on the cup was inappropriate and mocking. So, at this point I think you should do what your manager has directed and let your organization decide how to deal with it if the employee also sounds as though you and the supervisor need to work at building a supervisory team so you can communicate about issues such as this. If your manager is involved it might improve his skills as well. Clearly there was not much sharing about this issue. You also need to work with all employees you supervise to ensure they know it is their responsibility to follow the rules. You can discuss how they should respond if something similar happens. There would be no issue right now if the employee had followed the rules, or simply accepted the comments about his cup and let it go, or talked to you.It may be that you can even have an impact on the overall culture by focusing everyone on fairness, working together effectively and putting the emphasis on work. Help the employee with the coffee cup get back on track. If this was just symptomatic of other things, maybe he needs to be moved out the door anyway. But hopefully, this was just a bad situation that was mishandled, but will not ruin the entire workplace. One thing is for sure–you don’t want to get yourself in trouble about a picky issue like this. Make your point that you would feel more comfortable with an investigation. But, do what you are told to do if your arguments don’t sway your manager.Best wishes in this difficult situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.