There’s a difference between holding people accountable and being emotionally abusive. In the office, that matters. Buzz60’s Sean Dowling has more.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.
Q: What advice do you have for a group of employees who feels that their supervisor has engaged with them in an unprofessional and abusive manner over a prolonged period? They are afraid to report it to higher authorities for fear of reprisals. Some employees have quit. HR seems to be aware of the problem but has taken no action. — Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: You and your colleagues are not alone. Of all workplace problems, the bad manager is one of the most common. According to Gallup, half of all employees have left a job at some point in their careers to get away from their supervisor.
Before I answer your specific question, though, I need to say: If your manager’s misbehaviors are violent or sexual in nature, the situation demands immediate action. While such circumstances are extreme and unlikely, I want to ensure that you and your colleagues are safe.
When your coworkers are either quitting or quaking in fear, odds are your supervisor is a difficult person (to say the least, you might add). Difficult people intensify tensions and create conflict, which is at the core of your question: How can I resolve this workplace conflict and defuse the stress that comes from it?
The key to conflict resolution in any setting is communication. This might be uncomfortable at first. But you’ll have to push through, since you can’t solve what you don’t confront.
It’s also worth confirming that HR is aware of the problem. Perhaps HR just knows about certain bits and pieces. In any case, you can fill in the blanks and tell the whole story.
If HR is totally unaware, you should follow your employer’s process for lodging complaints.
But if HR is aware and not taking action, you should formally present the problem to your company’s most senior HR representative.
Beforehand, huddle with your colleagues to construct a complete summary of the situation. Define precisely which unprofessional and abusive behaviors you’re upset about. List relevant facts, dates, times and witnesses who can corroborate your account.
And bring your group of colleagues with you for this conversation with HR, because typically there’s strength in numbers.
Q: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a variety of disabilities, some of which are accompanied by traits that might not be apparent, even to the person with the disability. Is there a proper way for me, as the manager of an employee who seems to exhibit traits covered under the ADA, to request he get tested so we can best accommodate his needs? — Anonymous
Taylor: No, and let me explain why.
This is a delicate situation, so proceed with caution. The ADA defines a variety of disabilities – some of which, as you indicated, have traits that might not be immediately apparent, even to the person who displays them.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides guidance to employers who have concerns about the performance or conduct of employees and offers examples of when the question of a disability can be raised.
Let’s consider your question in two ways:
If there are no problems with your employee’s performance, it is ordinarily unnecessary and risky to raise the question of a suspected disability. If you do so and the employee later is subject to an employment decision with which he does not agree, he could argue that you perceived him as disabled. In other words, he might have a viable ADA claim based on your raising the assumption.
If the employee does have a performance issue, address it specifically. The delicate question is whether the employee needs an accommodation for a disability.
Here’s the catch-22: If you don’t ask, the employee could argue that you, the employer, had notice of a potential problem and should have asked if an accommodation was necessary. If you do ask, the employee could argue that your real concern is a perceived disability, not a performance problem.
Bully of a boss? You don’t have to just give in and resign. Ask HR
‘Hostile work environment’: Understand the legal ins and outs. Ask HR
But there is a middle ground. You can ask the employee if there is anything he would like the company to consider to help him make the necessary improvement to his performance.
This question opens the door for the employee to raise the need for a reasonable accommodation – or some other support – without the company suggesting he has a disability.
I strongly recommend against asking the employee to be tested. Under the ADA, a current employee can be tested only in limited circumstances.
One exception is if the employee performs a safety-sensitive job and the symptoms the employee exhibits create a potential safety risk to himself or others. In this case, consider having the employee provide the results of a fitness-for-duty exam by his doctor. Or, your company has the right to have its own doctor evaluate the employee.
If fitness for duty is evaluated, you ordinarily will want to focus on the employee’s behaviors when communicating with health care professionals.
Let the professionals decide what evaluation or test is required based on the employee’s symptoms and behaviors.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/05/21/abusive-bosses-what-employees-should-do/3693251002/