They said what??? If you’ve ever managed employees before, there’s no doubt you’ve wanted to scream this question out at least a few times. Inappropriate workplace conversations can be a tricky topic to handle. When people spend many hours at work together day after day, it’s almost a certainty that there will be inappropriate and even offensive comments, actions, and gossip occurring. If you’re the manager, it’s your responsibility to address such incidents and stop the inappropriate workplace behavior from recurring.

  1. Just the facts.

First, it’s essential to gather and understand the facts.  In the workplace, not everyone is going to get along.  This can result in gossip, rumors and even lies being told by one employee about another – possibly in hopes of getting the other employee to get fired.  For this reason, before you take any action, you need to understand the facts and interview witnesses to the offensive conduct.  When you conduct an interview, keep good notes and exercise discretion with respect to the information you reveal.  If an incident has a potential to lead to a litigation and/or discharge of an employee, consider talking to your employment attorney for further guidance.

  1. Time to talk.

Once you’ve gathered the factual evidence and reasonably believe that an offensive conduct, indeed, took place, it’s time to schedule a meeting with the employee or employees in question. For the most productive conversation, be sure to pick a place to speak that is private, out of earshot and view of others. Choose a time (towards the end of the day) when workload is at a minimal and your meeting would cause the least destruction.  It also allows employee to leave after the meeting to cool off and avoid a possible confrontation

  1. We’re on the same side.

Most employees become a bit uneasy when their manager unexpectedly asks them to talk. Be sure to stay neutral, non-threatening, through your word choice, tone, and temperament.  Let the employees know that everyone is on the same team.  Don’t be degrading or hostile.  Your goal is to identify and resolve the issue, to make sure that it doesn’t happen again – not stir up more emotions.

  1. Practice makes perfect.

Take some time to practice what you’re going to say either to yourself or to a trusted friend outside of the workplace. Employee meetings about inappropriate workplace conversations can, at times, become heated. Knowing ahead of time exactly what you want to say is key to staying on course during such meetings.

  1. Stay calm.

Most people don’t like to be called out on inappropriate behavior, particularly by a manager. Although you hope that your employees will handle themselves professionally, it doesn’t always happen. Be prepared for tears, anger, hostility and more volatile emotions to fly. It’s vital if this happens to stay calm and stay on topic. This will help to de-escalate the situation and accomplish the goal of resolving the issue.  However, is there is any concern that your safety, or you have concerns about your employee’s reaction to your message, make sure that someone else is present (or available to provide assistance) if necessary.

  1. Two sides to every story.

As the old saying goes, “there’s your side, my side, and the truth.” Take the time to actively listen to the employees’ sides of the story and let them know they have been heard.   Document the conversation with your employees, proposed corrective action, and the follow-up steps.

  1. Follow up.

Before you leave the meeting, make sure that parties are clear about the agreed-upon corrective actions and follow-up steps required.  Employees need to understand what happens if they fail to follow through.  Ask them to sign the summary of your discussion and agreed-upon corrective action, including specific milestones and timing for each action.  If an employee refuses to sign, you need to write that “the employee refused to sign.”

Once the conversation has taken place, and there has been a resolution to the situation – follow up with all parties involved to make sure that issue is resolved before you close the file.

Dealing with inappropriate workplace conversations and behaviors can be a challenging part of being a manager. Follow these tips and you’ll be better prepared to have these conversations.

This article is intended to serve as a general summary of the issues outlined therein.  While this article may include general guidance, it is not intended as, nor is it a substitute for, a qualified legal advice. Your receipt of this article from Lexern Law Group, Ltd. (the “LLG”) or any of its attorneys does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the LLG.  The opinions expressed in this articles are those of the authors of the article and does not reflect the opinion of the LLG.