what to do??

I had an ee walk out on Friday, she didn't tell anyone in command that she was leaving. Later we heard that another ee called her a name. We did an investigation and no one seen or heard anything. This same ee who left has complained about the "name caller" before. We also did investigations at that time and the "name caller" was put on progressive discipline. Well today, there is a rumor that the ee who left said that she has a bruise on her lower back where the "name caller" ran into her with a mail buggy.

Of course this is all hear-say, we tried on Friday to contact the ee who left, but we can't get her on the phone. Another ee talked to her and let her know that we wanted to talk to her. What do I need to do, if anything?

The ee who left did not tell us anything and will not answer the phone.



  • 15 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I would send her a certified return receipt letter based on your no-call/no-show policy. Obviously, she quit but you need to cover yourself. Also, I am unsure of something...if you heard that the "name caller" struck again - and when you did your investigation no one heard anything - how did you hear that she was called a name?
  • The ee that left told another ee who told the supervisor. At that point we did an investigation where no one heard or seen anything.

    Just a bunch of he said she saids.

  • Have you talked to the "name caller" about the incident?
  • I would not set up a separate procedure of sending her a registered or certified letter if you do not do that usually. I would apply the discipline policy as it relates to job abandonment, no shows and absences and let it run its course. The employee obviously understands your complaint procedure since she used it previously. Even if the 'name caller' did strike again, that does not excuse the exiter from following your company procedures. It is my assumption that the 'name caller' is not in a management role and cannot affect the exiter's conditions of employment as relates to promotion, demotion, pay, retention, transfer, etc.

    Employees cannot simply decide to say, 'I'm uncomfortable here, so screw the processes'.
  • Don,

    I agree with most of what you said. In my short time on the forum, I have to admit this is the first time that I respectfully disagree.

    The alleged mistreatment does not give the ee the right to ursurpe the policies of the company, and she cannot say, "screw the processes."

    But, she can turn around and file a charge saying that she was subjected to a hostile work environment. Of course, she will have to claim a protected category, but that should not be too hard. Managers can harass two ways: quid pro quo (something for something) and hostile work environment. Non-management personnel cannot be held to quid pro quo, but can definitely create a hostile environment for another ee. For the ee to successfully bring the claim, s/he must meet the criteria, that the conduct was unwelcome, that a reasonable person would be offended, that the employer knew or should have known about the misconduct, and that the employer failed to take appropriate action. That is the reason conducting a thorough investigation is a key defense for the employer. The fact that she did not complain (this time) is good for the employer, but they have knowledge of the allegations and need to address them.

    Additionally, an ee can bring a constructive discharge claim (forced resignation) and they are typically piggy-backing on the back of a hostile environment claim. To bring a successful claim, they have to prove that the conduct was so offensive that they had no other avenue but to resign. Again, here, this may not be applicable, but you never know about the agencies and how they view the evidence. A thorough investigation is a greater insurance policy for the employer than letting it run its course in these situations.

    I would have the ee that brought the situation to management's attention write a statement, as well as any other ees that are interviewed. Document the investigation in case something arises from the incident while it is fresh in everyone's mind. This will allow you to show the steps you took in researching the complaint and why you reached the conclusion you did.
  • I would send the ee a certified letter as well. In the letter, I would explain that you are unclear why she left since she did not speak to anyone and that you would like to give her an opportunity to tell you what occurred. Explain that you are concerned about her, and that you are looking out for her welfare. I always say something like I need to speak to you in order to clear up any misunderstanding, or I need to make sure there was no miscommunication, etc.

    You also need to set a date for the ee to contact you. I normally give the ee ten days from the date of the letter. This allows for mailing time and gives plenty of time for the ee to contact you. Inform the ee that if you do not hear from her in the allotted timeframe, that she will be held to the attendance policy of your facility. I think it is always beneficial that the ee sees you as someone that wants to help get to the bottom of the situation, so I make the letter as nonthreatening as possible, but with clearly defined limits.

    As far as the alleged "name caller," did the ee that alerted management hear the comment or see the ee get hit with the mail cart? I think if someone got hit with a piece of equipment, someone would have to know about it.

    1) Who works in the area? Speak to these ees to see if they saw or heard anything.
    2) Do you have video equipment in your facility? If so, is there a camera in any areas that may have captured the incident.
    3) Talk to the alleged aggressor. If you have and s/he denied, go back to him/her. Question him/her again. If I think there may be merit to a claim, I will spend time with the alleged aggressor looking at "notes." People who think you have information will break down if they believe you have evidence misconduct occurred. Additionally, people hate silence and will try to fill the gap - it is human nature. Ask a question, sit back and say nothing. Let him/her start to feel uncomfortable and see what happens. If s/he still denies it and you strongly believe s/he is being dishonest, ask him/her why other people do not support their story. Again, I will flip through a notebook like I am looking at statements from other ees. This puts added perssure on the ee and will probably make him/her admit to the misconduct if it occurred. Remember, you are the only one who knows what informaton you have. You can use this to your advantage. Additionally, since the alleged aggressor has been discplined for this in the past, you can bring this up an dlet them know that you want to believe them, but they have exhibited the same behavior in the past. This may also work. You have to read the ee's reaction and determine which style is best suited to get the information you need.
    4) Do not be afraid to talk to as many people as you fell you neeed to to find out the truth. When I speak to someone, I tell them that they need to be honest wiht me. I say that all I am interested in is the truth and that the truth always comes out. Let the ee know the consequences for dishonesty in the beginning. If you believe they are not being honest when you question them, remind them that you expect honesty.

    As an employer, all you have to do is show that once you are made of aware of a situation, you take prompt, remedial action. Whether this is just conducting an investigation and concluding there was no misconduct, or whether you take disciplinary action as a result of your investigation, you increase liability to the company the longer you wait. If you are not satisfied with the results of your first investigation, broaden your base and see what results you come up with.
  • I agree with Don. She walked out. She's the one who failed to communicate with management. These were her decisions. Follow your standard procedures. There can be no misunderstanding and/or miscommunication with an ee who doesn't communicate.
  • I am leaning toward following your existing procedures - not creating new ones. If you regularly follow-up on rumor and innuendo in the manner suggested, then by all means treat this incident in a consistent manner, but if you do not regularly do this, then are you creating an obligation to do this sort of follow-up and investigation for every bit of rumor and gossip that may be interpreted as creating a hostile work environment? This seems like a can of worms to me and I would not want to be the one responsbile for making sure I tracked down the object of every bit of workplace gossip and dissatisfaction so I could start an investigation.
  • I also concur with Don. An ee walks off the job that is "job abandonment". Follow your policies.
  • I, too, agree with Don's advice. We send a certified letter and a regular delivery letter, just in case the ee does not sign for the certified. But, again, don't handle this one any differently than you handle others. Don't do any more.

    If you feel that you should handle anything internally, re-educate your managers and review your policies with staff. Make sure everyone is aware of the complaint procedure and signs off on it.
  • HRinFL: I can give all sorts of reasons why 'T' should follow his standard procedure for those who walk out, don't attend or are no-shows; but, for the sake of brevity, let's mention just one, insurance. If 'T' creates a new and special procedure/practice just to accommodate this job abandoner because he's twitching around in the world of 'what if', let's assume he does give her 10 or 15 days notice in a special delivery letter. Let's then assume that person cranks up the insurance card and obligates the company for several thousand dollars with multiple medical procedures. 'T' has needlessly allowed this person to obligate the company when he should have terminated the ee and ended the insurance on day one.

    I did not say 'don't investigate'. I do, however, suggest following termination policy, then investigating, not suspending policy, WHILE investigating. All of the advice you gave on how to conduct an investigation and when to conduct one is accurate. As a side note, calling someone 'a name' does not a hostile environment make and we should not opine that it might when we have no evidence to support it. And a co-worker cannot initiate quid-pro-quo harassment. I think some of us might also be overlooking the fact that, when questioned, nobody had seen or heard anything. That's another reason to go ahead with regular procedure and terminate. Continuing with an investigation is separate and apart from that.

    Now, if John had come and told me that Mary walked out crying because VP Jernigan grabbed her buttcheek and told her he wanted an answer about sex right now or she would regret it, then I would consider yours to be fairly good advice.

    You can always go back and reinstate; but, you can never back up and terminate earlier, and no agency or hearing venue will criticize you for following standard company policy and exercising procedure consistently. x:-) Did I say 'for the sake of brevity?' Sorry.
  • I also agree with Don. You made the attempt to contact her to find out what happened and she did not respond so follow your normal procedures. In order to make a case for hostile work environment the EE needs to bring the situation to the company's attention and THEN the company needs to prove it took appropriate action, whatever that may be. There IS responsibility on the part of the EE and allowing this employee to walk off the job without notifying anyone and not following your regular disciplinary procedures sends the wrong message to the rest of the employees.

  • Agree with the others. You don't want to set a precedent for future incidents when someone walks off the job. Follow your attendance policy for job abandonment and proceed accordingly.
  • Thanks everyone for all the replies. I sure do love this forum.

  • I definitely see your side of the argument, but I don't believe that by sending the letter, this means the employer has to change the existing policy. Employees quit all the time for many reasons, in my experience, only a few claim they quit due to intolerable conditions. Researching them does not mean the employer abandoned its normal process. You can be consistent and still have flexibility to handles situations on a case-by-case basis. This ee claims that she was called a name, granted the employer has met its legal obligation by conducting an interview, and also claimed she was hit in the back with a cart. I am not a W/C expert, but even though she is no longer employed, does she not still have a valid W/C claim because she was "injured" during the scope of her employment? The insurance company may still be on the hook for thousands of dollars. I would rather have the ee return to discuss the situation with me, even though the outcome may still be the same (she resigned and is no longer employed), but I would hope to have a better understanding of the incident. Since no one says they saw what happened, if the ee filed a Petition for Benefits, the employer would not have any impeachable evidence. If the ee spoke to me, I could find out what her story is, make a determination on compensability, and hopefully provide the insurance carrier with a statement that could be used to determine the appropriate treatment needed, if any. Additionally, it would serve to offer some protection against any additional compensatory damages claimed by the ee. Again, I am not an expert and deal primarily with investigating complaints of unlawful discrimination, etc., but I believe sending a letter in situations like this is always beneficial to the employer. I apologize for the delay in responding, I have been investigating complaints all week! I appreciate your thoughts and feedback and enjoy the varying views and debate!
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