Undermined In My Absence

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about dealing with a complaint:

I am a member of a small team. On a leave day a coworker of a different profession and higher status role, threatened to make an official complaint against me for doing something she had done in an earlier situation. Our manager said she would handle it and she spoke to me very nicely about it. I pointed out the similarities in the cases. What she didn’t mention was that the complaining employee talked about making an official complaint in front of my coworkers, in my absence and in an open setting. My other coworkers told me about it.¬† am angry and feel my integrity has been rubbished and I do not want to remain with this team. I view all of this as a form of constructive dismissal. I intend to vote with my feet, as do my colleagues. Do I have grounds to file a grievance against my coworker?

Signed, Walking

Dear Walking:

Your question involves HR rules and procedures as much as it does a communication issue. It sounds as though your are finished communicating! Let me share a few thoughts:
1.) There must be much more going on than you have indicated. It hardly seems that one incident, even one that angered you a great deal, would result in you and your colleagues quitting work. Are you sure it’s to the point where that is the only solution? Are you sure you have heard the story correctly? There is a big difference between standing and talking at length about the performance or behavior of someone compared to making a remark like, “I’m tired of this and I’m going to make a complaint!”
2. Have you talked to your manager about what you were told? Keep in mind that your manager did nothing wrong by not telling you every detail of what happened. She may have talked to the other person on the side and told her she was wrong. She may have talked to some other manager about it. Or, she may have not said anything but resolved to ensure you knew you were not in trouble. I always recall the old adage: It takes two people to hurt your feelings or make you angry: An enemy to say something bad about you behind your back and a friend to make sure you hear about it.” I wonder how your friends reacted when the other person was complaining in front of them?
3. You certainly can quit or ask to go to another team. (Whether or not you will automatically be allowed to go to another team is something else.) I just hope you will be very certain that is what you want to do. It isn’t constructive dismissal to have someone complain about you, so be careful about the steps you take to leave. You want to be able to have a reference or at least to leave without a cloud over the situation.
4. Check with your HR department to see if you can make a complaint or a register a grievance about the person who complained about you in public. Ask for an investigation and give them the names of those who will make written statement verifying what she said. If you’re going to do that, you’ll need to do it before you leave, because after you and your colleagues leave you won’t have standing to make a complaint.
5. I truly do hope you will take the time to discuss this with your manager. Be honest with her about how you feel. See if some better resolution can be developed than throwing away a job out of anger about one person. If you still feel the same way, you can “vote with your feet”. But it’s usually helpful if your feet have someplace better to go to next! Best wishes to you. 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.