By Suzanne Hoffman, Ph.D.
Senior Consultant Baron Center, Inc.
Article #3 of the 4 “D’s”
What are Disorderly Behaviors?
Disorderly behaviors almost always violate organizational policy of some kind. These behaviors include (but are not limited to): threats, intimidation, inappropriate use of social media and technology, throwing of objects, vandalism and theft, and verbal, sexual, and physical harassment.
These behaviors are disturbing, and can take a significant toll on the mental or emotional well-being of your employees, and the overall culture of the work place. These are behaviors that can also escalate to the realm of dangerous – sometimes very quickly. Keep in mind that using force on an inanimate object (like pounding on a desk) can be just one step away from using force on a co-worker. It is important to take swift and immediate action as soon as the organization becomes aware of the problem.
These Behaviors can be Frightening!
These disorderly behaviors can create fear for co-workers and can also frighten those who are charged with addressing them with the employee in question. Managers, supervisors and HR professionals can be understandably unsure about how to proceed when these situations arise, for fear of causing the behaviors to escalate. It’s important for organizations to take steps to ensure managers are equipped to intervene effectively and quickly when problematic behaviors occur.
What do you need to know?
We have found that it is most important to be prepared – that is, to know in advance what organizational policies and resources are available to you for a variety of potentially difficult situations, and to be fluent in proper legal and HR protocol when investigating and intervening in reported disorderly conduct.
Be prepared by knowing:
- What are your organization’s workplace conduct policies? How do they dictate for you to proceed?
- Harassment/ Sexual Harassment/Bullying
- Internet Use
- Workplace Violence
- What relevant legal issues do you need to be aware of for the above policies?
- What organizational/HR issues do you need to be aware of for the above policies?
- Who are your preferred outside resources?
- Private Investigator (PI)
- Psychologist/Threat Management Professional
- Law Enforcement
- FFD Practitioners
Are you ready?
In our years of experience, we have seen that preparation in advance pays off significantly when these situations arise. Knowing who to call, and when, can go a long way in reducing anxiety and increasing effective and safe responses to these types of situations.
We can’t stress enough the importance of vetting outside consultants, such as psychologists and security professionals, before problems arise, and developing relationships with your legal counsel and local law enforcement. Also, understand the resources your EAP provides and how to access those resources quickly. Don’t feel like you have to know all the answers; but do feel empowered by knowing where you can get quick answers and support if you need them. There’s not much worse than navigating through a potential crisis without a prepared list of reliable resources.
How should you respond?
In situations where disorderly conduct is apparent, it is important to respond immediately to any reports or observations of such conduct. Reassure the reporting employee (or employees) that you appreciate their alerting you to their concerns; that you will take the report seriously and will follow up according to your internal procedures; finally, that due to confidentiality concerns, you may not be able to report back about specific actions taken.
If an investigation is forthcoming, consider whether a leave of absence with pay is appropriate for the individual accused of the disorderly conduct. This will avoid adding financial stress for the individual during an already stressful time. Determine who will meet with the employee and any witnesses. If this is a formal investigation, be sure to use a PI or other qualified professional to conduct the investigation itself.
If the employee is placed on a leave of absence, be sure he/she has one designated point of contact within the organization, and is directed to contact that person only unless otherwise specified. Also during the investigation, consider suspending access to building facilities, key cards, controlled access points and computer servers until the outcome of the inquiry is complete.
Be sure to remind any witnesses that it is imperative they respect the confidential nature of the process, and not discuss the investigation.
Observe and respond if behavior escalates
If it is determined that the employee has engaged in the conduct, but will remain employed with the organization under a PIP or other plan, carefully monitor for an escalation in the behavior, or any new behaviors which would be considered disruptive, disorderly or dangerous.
Any escalation in behavior or any new behaviors of concern should be addressed immediately. If it is determined that the employment relationship is to be terminated, give careful consideration to how that termination will proceed, and consider a “soft landing” approach (i.e. severance, COBRA, outplacement, counseling through EAP).
For more extreme disruptive behaviors, consider whether security and/or assistance from law enforcement will be needed during and following the termination for a period of time.
In our final article in this series, we will consider dealing with the final “D” – dangerous behaviors in the workplace.
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