Supervisor Suspended Unjustly After Complaint

Question:

My husband is a manager of a gym and one of the female employees states she had been sexually harrassed by another female employee. She never reported the incident to him, he had no knowledge what or when this occured but he went to work one day and was suspended by his supervisor for 3 days because she “said” he did nothing about it!

The supervisor started an investigation but there was no confidentiality in the midst. My spouse found out by “heresay” the one girl texted a naked picture of herself to the other girl.

To this date (a week later) he still does not know if this is true or when this occured. The accuser had also on many occassions asked to go out prospecting off-site with the alleged perpetrator.

What rights does he have since he has since returned to work and been found innocent, but members and employees all know of his being suspended because the supervisor did not utilize discretion during the investigation? All parties are still in the work place.

Signed,

Frustrated and Concerned


Answer:

Dear Frustrated and Concerned:

Saying this to your husband will not help much, but it would be good for him to remember that if people know about the other bogus parts of this complaint, so they also know he had nothing to do with it. Most probably feel a lot of sympathy for him.

I think there are probably issues involved that your husband should ask for an explanation about from HR or from managers higher than your husband’s immediate supervisor, to get it cleared up.

For example, these questions immediately came to mind to me:

1. Was your husband suspended without pay or was he told to take the time off? Was the time part of his regular days off or was it given to him as part of the investigation?

Those make a difference in how unfair the situation would be seen to an outsider. It is not uncommon to have the supervisor or others simply be told to stay away from work until an investigation can be done. If no money or time is lost, it is not disciplinary so nothing needs to be returned to the employee. But, if they took time or money, he should ask to have that returned since he was found innocent of wrongdoing.

2. As for the discretion issue: If your husband really feels it was talked about openly by the supervisor, not just leaked by individuals as they tend to do in these cases, he should contact the HR section or higher management to complain about the potential harm to his reputation.

But, if the situation was that Mary and Jane who were questioned by the supervisor, talked about it to everyone else, your husband’s only recourse would be to ask that Mary and Jane be disciplined in some way for their lack of discretion.

These things are almost impossible to keep quiet, even when people are threatened with their jobs. When they aren’t threatened with their jobs, it is apparently just too interesting to not talk about! Here is my advice about this: Find out how this is shown in his personnel records. There should be a clear indication that he was found to not be at fault. He may want to write a memo to that effect and ask that it be put in the file for future reference.

Then, he should talk to the supervisor, if he feels comfortable doing so at this point, and say how frustrating and upsetting this has been. He could reiterate that he had no idea anything wrong was happening and would like to know how if higher level managers had any suggestions for how it could have been handled differently.

What that does is not only express his feelings, but it presents him as someone who wants to be successful in the company and who is trying to find out what higher level people want from the managers.

The other thing he can do is to calm the inevitable talk by talking to each employee not involved in the situation and saying, “You may have heard something about it, but as you probably also heard the matter has been handled and I wasn’t found to be at fault. So, let’s not keep it going and let’s get our focus back on our clients and customers.”

What THAT does is stop some talk, but if it is repeated to someone, it sounds as though he is handling it well. Otherwise, those people who were gossiping will gossip about what he says and will quote him as sounding upset or angry. So this way, if they quote him, it sounds positive.

He should not talk to those involved in the actual complaint except to respond to their converation about it briefly. He may want to ask his manager or HR about that, to see if they think he should do anything above what has already been done organizationally.

I’m not going to second guess what your husband did or didn’t do as a supervisor, because I don’t know anything about it, obviously. But, one thing I have noticed in reviewing these issues for many companies is that supervisors often benefit from talking to each employee about work on a regular basis and frequently asking, “Is there anything about the work situation here that is causing problems or concerns for you?”

That way the supervisor is more likely to know about complaints than if he or she simply waits for someone to say something. When no questions are asked, it is not uncommon for courts and others to say, “You should have been more alert and you should have been asking about work concerns, rather than waiting.”

That might not have been possible in this case, but it might have been. It’s important for supervisors to be listening for hints, gossip or innuendos, so wrongdoing of any kind (not only harassment) is stopped early on.

In this case, I’m very glad the truth came out and I hope appropriate action was taken to keep it from happening again. But certainly I’m sure your husband will feel uncomfortable about it until some new issue happens to take its place in everyone’s minds. If he is a fair and honest person who is well liked by others for his positive attitude and good relationships, no one will believe wrong things about him. That is the goal! Best wishes to you and to him as he works through this situation.

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.