Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
As a HR professionals, we often hear workplace drama stories. And sadly, sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of the drama. That’s what today’s reader note is all about.
Hello. I’m the sole HR person at a small company. The owner is female, and her husband is vice president. An employee recently received driving while intoxicated (DUI) charge and entered voluntarily a 30-day rehab program. While in employee was in rehab, the owner of the company realized there was something going on between her husband, the employee’ manager, and the employee. I was aware of this, and the owner took a leave of absence, without explanation.
The employee returned recently and confided to me that she felt the company was going to fire her because she was having “two-hour lunches” with the vice president. There is a lot more to this story and I feel I have been put in the middle with the owner not knowing I know and the employee not wanting me to get involved.
I would like to share the entire scenario and discuss what my obligation is. I feel I could be targeted by the owner and husband/vice president if they find out that I’m aware of the situation.
Let me start this by saying that I’m not a lawyer and don’t pretend to be one. There’s a lot to unpack in this story and the reader even tells us that we don’t know everything. So, there’s no way for us to give a detailed response. But I do want to share some articles that might be helpful in trying to decide next steps.
A few years ago, we answered a reader note about an employee having an affair with the boss. Our friend and employment attorney Kate Bischoff talks about HR’s obligations in investigations. Both the company and HR can be at risk.
This reader mentions that they’re not sure the company knows that they are aware of the situation with the employee and vice president, which might be true. However, regardless of whether HR knows, it’s possible other employees can see what’s going on. That can have an impact on the workplace. Especially if they feel that HR should know and isn’t doing anything to stop it. We answered a reader question about when “HR fails to investigate an incident” a few years ago. It’s still a good reminder about the role HR plays in helping employees feel safe from mistreatment.
One of the things that stood out for me in this reader note is the size of the organization. Working at a small company has its advantages and disadvantages. As a HR professional, we’re often very close to senior leadership – which is great. But we also want to be seen as trustworthy and able to maintain confidentiality. If there are concerns about how HR is being perceived, a person needs to think about whether they can be effective in their role.
Lastly, I can’t tell someone to confront company leadership. That’s a decision this reader needs to make for themself. But to wrap up, I want to share two more articles:
Depending on your situation, HR professionals might be the ones calling on behalf of the organization OR calling on their own. I wish I could say that HR never gets dragged into the office drama, but sometimes it happens through no fault of our own. HR professionals need to do their homework and figure out the best way to respond – for themselves and the organization.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Las Vegas, NV38