A Personal Note from Allison:
I have a dear friend who is off work right now, due to a conflict in the workplace that was handled very poorly by her employer. She has now been off work for four months and her employer has done nothing but tell her she should “get back to work”. While I need to keep my personal feelings aside, there is a LOT her employer should have done, and could have done, that would have had her back at work within two weeks of the incident. Now, it is likely she will never be able to return, because of how her employer mishandled the situation.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to provide a work environment that is free of bullying, harassment and violence. In short – you need to provide a work environment where employees feel safe, because that is the law.
Conflict does not always fit neatly into the boxes of bullying, harassment or violence. It could be two co-workers who are not getting along, or simply don’t like each other. What is your responsibility here, as the employer?
The very first thing you must do is be neutral. You cannot take sides, regardless of which party you have a better relationship with. If you are unable to remain neutral, you need to get a third party involved, who has no bias.
You need to conduct an investigation with both parties, their supervisors and any witnesses to the conflict. This requires peeling back all the layers, to get to the root cause of the conflict. Meet with each person individually in order to do this. Once you have completed your interviews, review your notes and circle back with individuals when you have more questions, based on the information you received from others. Keep doing this until you feel you have the full picture of what is going on.
Once you have the full picture, bring the two parties together, present your findings and seek confirmation. Once you have confirmed what the root cause of the conflict is, try to get them talking…to each other. A third party can be very helpful at this stage to facilitate the meeting.
If at this point, you cannot get any resolution – they don’t like each other and refuse to “get along”, you are well within your rights to issue an edict that it is the company’s expectation that while they are at work, they will both act in a professional manner with each other. You can also state that they are not to gossip about each other at work. I would make one more statement – if they are unable to behave as professionals then they will be putting their continued employment in jeopardy. Be sure to document the process as you go along.
The one caveat I will make about the investigation process, is that it must be done swiftly. I don’t mean rush it, I mean don’t wait to see if the employees will “work it out” between them. If it is a one-off and the parties involved have moved on, then leave it. However, if it is ongoing, impacting others, or shows no sign of letting up, or one of the parties has gone off work because of it – get involved. The sooner you put a stop to this behaviour and what caused it, the sooner your employee can return to work and your team can get back to business.
I invite you to connect with me, to learn more on this topic, and how I can help you with Human Resources in your workplace.