Reports A Coworker

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors of a report of a coworker:

Should a supervisor respond to an employee who has snitched on another who has been caught abusing sick time? (The employee was seen in a mall when she called in sick.)

Signed, Wondering

Dear Wondering:

First we need to define terms. It shouldn’t be called snitching when an employee reports another employee for clearly violating a rule or procedure that has importance to the company. That is the ethical reporting of a violation or concern. Snitching occurs when an employee reports trivial issues, more in the line of gossiping or backstabbing. Calling in sick puts everyone at a disadvantage and the employee is paid for not working. It’s one thing to just not feel like going to work, so you stay home even though you’re not really sick. But to go shopping–that’s pretty egregious and extreme.

If a supervisor finds out about wrongdoing and finds that another employee was aware of it but didn’t say anything, usually the knowing employee is considered wrong as well. That would be true in this case too, so the employee really is obligated to report wrong-doing. Now, having said all of that, there is a difference in the spirit and attitude of those who report what they know and those who are considered snitches, and I am aware of that. But that is largely based on what has been happening in the team all along. If you are a supervisor and someone continually reports tiny little details that even an observant supervisor didn’t notice or think serious, that’s something to talk to them about and to stop. But, if an employee reports something serious you need to respond appropriately and in a way that indicates it was worthy of reporting.

Here is the best way to handle that: Tell the employee that you are always concerned about serious work violations, so you needed to know about this one and you will take the appropriate action about it. Find out the details if you don’t know them already. Unless the matter is very severe, which this one isn’t, I don’t like to have employees be asked to “put it in writing”, which often seems like punishment for the reporting employee and a way to put them on the spot. Instead, assure them that their name will not be used and that unless the other employee is already well aware of the reporting employee’s involvement they won’t hear it from you.Then direct the employee to not talk about it to others, since it is a personnel matter.

This would be a good time to emphasize the difference between reporting truly serious matters and reporting minor matters. You could say that this is the kind of thing you need to know about, because it’s a serious problem for the company, in comparison to minor things that happen at work and that don’t have a strong impact on work or the business.Adapting those ideas will allow you as a supervisor to encourage everyone to feel they can talk to you about problems they see happening, but will also let them know the guidelines.Best wishes with this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how you handled it and what happened.

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.