My staff is filing complaints against me. Is this harassment?

When I moved into my management position, I started holding my staff accountable. Once corrective action started to begin, complaints started against me. A majority–if not all–complaints have come from individuals that have been placed on training plans or formal warnings. Their complaints make me feel harassed and uncomfortable completing my daily tasks as a manager. Do I have a potential case building?

Posted  06-20-2012

Ann Kiernan replies:

It is not always fun to be a manager. Like parenting, managing sometimes requires that you make and enforce unpopular decisions, for the good of all. But, unless the complaints against you are based on your protected characteristics, such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, etc., there is no illegal harassment.

Sorry to say, but as an employment lawyer, I hear this sort of thing regularly. A few employees, when disciplined or held to higher standards, react not by trying to improve on the job, but by trying to distract attention from their performance problems by filing workers’ compensation claims, going out on medical leave, reporting purported safety violations, claiming to have a disability, calling the company hotline about alleged ethical infractions, asserting harassment or discrimination charges, and so on. I assume that your Human Resources Department is probably aware of this phenomenon, too.

While the company has a clear obligation to fairly evaluate and, if appropriate, then to impartially investigate every employee complaint, no matter who the source, the worker’s performance and discipline record will certainly be considered as part of evaluating his/her motives and credibility. Some employers have policies stating that workers who knowingly file unfounded complaints can be disciplined or even terminated for providing false information or falsifying company documents.

So, I advise you to fully cooperate in any investigations of your conduct, even-perhaps especially-if you think the complaint is bogus. Earning a reputation in HR for being forthcoming and honest will serve you well. You might also use this as an opportunity to do some self-reflection: Could you benefit from some coaching on communication skills? Might some advice on how to help your employees succeed enable you to meet your goals? You could investigate what training resources are available at your company, as well as services offered through your Employee Assistance Program.

Congratulations on doing the hard job of managing, and good luck.

 

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.

2016-11-18T16:00:39+00:00

About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.