No workplace is perfect because no human is perfect. Mistakes happen, and some employees will deliberately misbehave if they know there are no consequences. And sometimes, misconduct gets overlooked.
The #MeToo movement made employees pay attention to sexual harassment in a way they hadn’t before. But, of course, awareness has not brought significant progress as we find out that even nearly four years after the #MeToo movement began, leaders like Bill Gates are covering up sexual harassment.
Ideally, your business is not overlooking serious misconduct like sexual harassment or racial discrimination, but you are probably missing some instances of minor misconduct. Overlooking minor misconduct is a mistake, as over time it can grow into gross misconduct issues.
For instance, let’s take timecard misreporting. To make it easier, the company automatically deducts 30 minutes from everyone’s timecard for lunch. Managers are supposed to edit timecards if someone didn’t take a lunch break, but no one follows up.
Employees become frustrated that they aren’t getting paid for all hours worked, and rather than filing an official complaint, they start making up for it in other ways such as getting a friend to clock in for them. Or perhaps employees take a 45-minute lunch rather than a 30-minute lunch. Eventually, you end up with inaccurate timecards, with some employees overpaid and some employees underpaid.
When the Department of Labor finds out, you can end up with fines and back pay, as Global One Logistics found out with their $122,000 judgment.
Who can prevent misconduct?
Companies train managers to report and handle misconduct at work (or at least they should). Still, it can take effort, and managers are juggling a lot and are often focused on things other than minor misconduct issues. Reporting someone for misconduct also means a disciplinary hearing, perhaps a written warning, or even dismissing the employee. But, as one person gets away with misconduct, it can lead to more people following suit, eventually causing a bigger headache.
It’s important to embrace and encourage bystanders to speak up. We’re conditioned not to tattle on each other, and reporting misconduct can feel like violating playground norms. But, if you have a responsive employee relations expert, it can make things better for (almost) everyone.
Take the common misconduct of bullying for example. Under federal law, bullying is “legal” as long as you aren’t bullying someone for race, gender, or another protected characteristic. Because it’s legal, companies often aren’t aware of the deep-rooted impact these actions can have within the workplace.
However, bullying has a devastating effect on businesses. Some estimates say that 30 percent of victims will quit, and 20 percent of witnesses will quit as well. Turnover is costly. Teaching bystanders to report any sort of bullying can allow managers and HR to stop it while it’s minor misconduct.
Managers need the ability to handle minor misconduct on their own. For example, if an employee is known for using derogatory language around the office, a manager needs to step in and put a stop to it without going through 14 steps of approvals. Managers need to know senior leadership and HR will support them when they step in to address even the most trivial of issues.
Give managers the tools to track issues, impose minor discipline, and draw up written warnings. Work alongside managers to ensure they have the training and confidence to address issues as they arise. Praise managers for following the law and promoting a positive workplace environment instead of ignoring missteps in safety that save a few dollars.
Allow anonymous reporting
Employees don’t want to get their coworkers and friends in trouble, and if you force them to come and give a formal report that Jane isn’t wearing steel-toed shoes on the factory floor, the employees probably won’t. But, if you have an anonymous tip line, you can conduct a quick investigation: “Hey, Jane, cute shoes. Are those steel-toed?” Jane has no idea that the HR manager didn’t spot her violation herself, and the problem is solved, leaving the company - and Jane’s toes - protected.
When managers and HR pay attention to details and ensure that no level of misconduct is overlooked, it ultimately leads to a safe and happy workplace. Tackling misconduct even when it’s small helps you achieve that goal.
Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She's sure not evil. She's super nice! Learn more about her at www.evilhrlady.org and email her directly for decidedly unevil advice.