Office coach: Minor infraction need not lead to fight

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. According to a trusted colleague, one of my employees recently called in sick when he was actually taking a trip to the beach. Although “Greg” is a bright guy with lots of potential, I have previously had some concerns about his work ethic. However, this was just a general impression with no specific evidence.

Even though I feel certain that Greg lied, I’m not sure how to handle it. If I make an accusation without any proof, that may offend him and damage our relationship. On the other hand, Greg shouldn’t be allowed to get away with lying, and I don’t want to be a spineless manager. What should I do?

A. Discussing performance problems can be awkward when the information is secondhand. Typically, employees will deny wrongdoing and demand to know who made the allegations. From there, the discussion can easily deteriorate into a pointless argument about infractions that cannot be proven.

To avoid wandering into this pit of conversational quicksand, try using the “if-then” approach. Instead of directly accusing Greg of misconduct, describe what you have been told, then explain the likely consequence if such a transgression were to occur. This method is especially useful with a relatively minor first offense.

For example: “Greg, I’ve heard that when you called in sick last week, you were actually on your way to the beach. I don’t know if that’s true, and I’m not trying to find out. However, I want to emphasize that lying is a serious breach of trust that would warrant a disciplinary warning. We don’t need to discuss it further, but I do want to be clear about the consequences if this were to happen in the future.”

If Greg proclaims his innocence, say there’s no need to debate the issue. If he asks who provided the information, tell him that’s confidential. Your goal is to simply deliver the message, be sure Greg understands, then end the meeting. I hope this bright young man will take your warning seriously, but for now, his absences should be closely scrutinized.

Q. A pregnant employee keeps complaining about our maternity leave and insurance benefits. As the human resources manager, how should I respond to her criticism of our policies? Is it our fault she didn’t research this before getting pregnant? Are we responsible for fixing her financial problems? I’m sick and tired of her constant whining, so how can I stop it?

A. If you have adequately explained the benefits, then you have no further obligation to tolerate endless complaints. However, you really must calm down, because right now you sound like an exasperated, ranting co-worker instead of a human resources professional. In that frame of mind, you represent a legal time bomb.

Being in HR, you are undoubtedly aware of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which covers employers with 15 or more employees. Assuming your business qualifies, the provisions of this act must guide all interactions with your disgruntled employee. Therefore, you should immediately seek guidance from the attorney who advises your company on labor matters, no pun intended.

Twitter: @officecoach