By Jonathan A. Segal
As Human Resources professionals, we frequently tell HR managers how to respond in the moment to high risk situations in terms of legal or cultural risk. But sometimes we don’t think through for ourselves how we will handle situations more likely to come to us.
I’ll be covering several of these types of “in the moment” situations and the appropriate responses during an interactive session at the PA Chamber’s Annual HR Conference on Wednesday, November 16. Consider the following examples.
Let’s say an employee comes into your office and tells you they are transgender. They’re not asking for judgement, or you opinion on the matter (so responses like “That’s great!” or “Really?” are off the table.) But how should you respond? Learn more on Nov. 16.
In another potential scenario, an employee tells you that they are not sure at times whether they want to live. Is asking them if they are suicidal, or trying to make the situation better by telling them they have “so much to live for” the best response; or should you or they phone the EAP? I’ll also be covering this on Nov. 16.
Here’s another example that isn’t only focused on what you shouldn’t say but what you should: An employee tells you that she was sexually harassed by your CIO – let’s call him Jack. In these situations, you may be tempted to evaluate the information presented to you – thinking that “does not sound like Jack.” It may not sound like Jack as you know him. But don’t say it. That suggests you don’t believe the person who had the courage to step forward.
On the other hand, you might think “that sounds like Jack.” Again, you may or may not be right – but don’t say it. The accused have rights, too, and saying this would suggest you think the accused is “guilty” without there having been an investigation, which includes due process.
Here’s an important takeaway, regardless of any scenario – when you receive a complaint, you should not be judging or saying how you feel about the content of the complaint. The key is to focus on the process. What does this mean?
First, thank the employee for letting you know his or her concerns. In thanking the employee, you confirm the employee did the right thing by sharing his or her concerns without stating or suggesting that you believe the concerns are valid or not.
Second, let the employee know that the concerns are serious, and you take them seriously. Do not judge the truth of the allegation at this time but the employee needs to know you recognize what you have been told is serious, and you take it seriously.
Third, let the employee know that you need to look into her concerns. You don’t need to use words like “investigate,” as that may serve only to escalate.
But if the employee asks you to keep what was shared with you confidential and/or begs you not to review, investigate, etc.? Again, join us on November 16 as we discuss this and other scenarios that arise “in the moment.”
Jonathan A. Segal is partner with Duane Morris and principal with the Duane Morris Institute.