Scary HR

Anyone who’s been in HR for a while probably has a story that will make any “newbie” rethink their HR career. Over the years, HR has dealt with some challenging issues.

Defecation – Yes, poop. What possesses an employee to get so angry with the company that they smear excrement on bathroom walls? Surprisingly, this has happened more often than people may think and it’s frequently challenging to determine who the culprit may be.

HR doesn’t want to be the bathroom monitor who installs cameras in the hall to see who’s coming and going from the restrooms. So, what can HR do about this?

  1. Don’t presume the individual did this deliberately. Perhaps they have a health condition that caused the situation and were too embarrassed or didn’t have the equipment to clean the mess up.
  2. Make employees aware of the situation and ask for their feedback on how to fix this problem. At the same time, remind them that they need to clean up the bathroom after themselves if they have an accident.

In an online forum, the following memo from HR was suggested:

“It’s come to our attention that someone is smearing excrement in one of the toilets. This is unacceptable. We appreciate that people can sometimes have bathroom accidents, but this has happened often enough, and in such a way, that it doesn’t appear to be accidental. It’s unfair on the cleaning staff to expect them to have to deal with this and so it’s now become an HR issue. We believe we know who is responsible, but before any formal action is taken, we think it would be better to allow them an opportunity to change their behavior. If there is any further incident of this nature, formal action will follow, which may result in disciplinary action or even dismissal.”

If any staff members are experiencing emotional or mental difficulties, our Employee Assistance Program is available for free and in complete confidence at [phone number].”

Another situation that employers may have experienced is the individual who for religious/cultural reasons must cleanse themselves after using the restroom. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens in a public employer restroom and other employees have witnessed this person cleaning himself in the sink where everyone is expected to wash their hands. In this circumstance, it’s best to have a conversation with the employee to acknowledge their need to cleanse themselves but to ask them if they can bring a basin of water into the toilet stall to clean themselves to ensure their privacy and maintain the hygiene in the restroom. Also instruct them to clean up after themselves should water spill and to properly dispose of any paper towels they may use.

Other situations may occur where an employer hires individuals from other countries where running water and proper hygiene are not taught. For example, an agricultural employer who provides housing to migrant workers may have a situation where those living in that housing may urinate and/or defecate in the corner of a room because they aren’t familiar with how running water and toilets work. It’s important that employers use compassion and empathy when teaching these individuals about hygiene and how to operate toilets and faucets.

Workplace Violence – In the 1980s we began hearing the term “going postal” after a series of mass shootings by former U.S. Post Office employees, which killed their co-workers and managers. However, workplace violence seems to have increased exponentially over the years.

From a truck bomb left outside an FBI office in Oklahoma to airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center, to individuals returning to workplaces and shooting fellow employees, it seems as if a day doesn’t go by without hearing about some form of workplace violence.

There’s the supervisor who went missing and whose truck was found abandoned at a local bar after he was threatened by an employee that he had terminated that afternoon. There’s the hair dresser whose ex showed up at her hair salon and shot her. The insurance company who relied on a glowing reference from another insurance company when hiring an individual who ultimately became angry after he was terminated and returned to the company to shoot and kill multiple co-workers.

These are just a few of the scary incidents involving workplace violence. What can a company do to prevent this type of situation from occurring at their place of employment? Here are some steps companies can take to keep their employees safe:

  • Evaluate Your Workplace. What systems are in place to prevent former employees and other unauthorized personnel from accessing your facility? If your organization is open to the public (such as a retail environment), what protocols do you have in place to monitor access and limit entrances into the facility?
  • Create a Supportive Environment. Employees become disgruntled, unhappy, and angry when they don’t feel heard by the company and/or feel like the company is allowing them to be bullied. Set expectations of respectful behavior in the workplace and provide employees with access to help if they feel they are being mistreated. Additionally, employees may be victims of domestic abuse. What resources, such as an employee assistance program, does the employer make available for them to seek help?
  • Provide training to managers and supervisors on how to recognize signs of potential violence and how to diffuse situations before it becomes violent.
  • Create a clear workplace violence policy and commit to a non-violent workplace.
  • Create an action plan should a violent incident occur, share it with employees, and practice. This is particularly true of an active shooter situation.

OSHA’s Fact Sheet on Workplace Violence sets their expectations for protocols employers can adopt to keep employees safe. Also, The Department of Labor has published the Workplace Violence Program they’ve adopted for their agencies online.

We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us!

Sometimes, how managers…even HR managers…react to situations is downright scary! So many problems in the workplace can be avoided if managers would just stop and think before they say something the company will regret.

Hats off to the HR Director who didn’t lose his cool when a manager submitted a performance evaluation to him that had already been given to an employee. In the performance evaluation, the manager had written that the employee was “too old and too slow.” Defending an Age Discrimination in Employment Act lawsuit is difficult when this type of proof is in writing for all to see.

But HR is not so innocent. A conversation with an HR Manager who was frustrated by the Americans with Disabilities Act truly believed that allowing her employee to bring his oxygen tank to work was a sufficient reasonable accommodation for him and they shouldn’t have to consider any other accommodations for him to perform his job. Thank you, HR Manager, for allowing your employee to breathe during working time!

Regardless of your experience in HR, challenges abound and can be downright scary! Remember to keep your cool and remind yourself that whatever you’re experiencing has probably happened to someone else before.

EAF responds to hundreds of hotline calls and emails monthly. We would be happy to answer any interesting questions you may have too! Contacts us at [email protected] or 407.260.6556

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