I’m an HR manager, and a supervisor made a complaint about another employee. I started an investigation by speaking to the accused on May 14th and looked into video evidence based on the accusations on May 18th. I was not able to find evidence of what the supervisor was stating. I take the onus that I was wrapped up in other HR tasks and did not  “circle” back around to let the accused know I conducted an investigation by watching the video and did not find supporting evidence of what they were accused of right away.

Before I could get back to the accused, the accused wrote an email to management on May 28th, only 10 days after I looked into the video, saying she was disappointed in HR for not looking into the video (which I did, she never followed up with me at all). 

The accused also stated in the email to the manager that I’m “friends” with the complainant, which is a conflict of interest. The accused keeps calling me and the supervisor friends throughout the email and stated she is not comfortable with reporting any further event between her and the complainant to me (HR)

 Please note, the complainant is a supervisor and has to work closely with me as he is an extension of HR. I find this accusation highly disrespectful and put me in an odd spot to perform my HR duties with her.

Please note she also has to continue to work with the complainant. I want to suggest that the three of us sit down for mediation to clear up any bad air after speaking to her one on one.

Would this be grounds for insubordination? I don’t think an employee should be able to inappropriately label any work relationships that clearly have to work hand in hand due to the nature of their roles. With this type of attitude and perspective, she could poison the work culture and morale. This employee even brought up another issue an employee had with the supervisor that she was not privy to, proving this gossip is floating around work.

Please let me know your thoughts and if this behavior could be considered insubordination.

You messed up, which I think you know. The solution for you is to apologize up one side and down the other to the accused. Explain that you viewed the video but didn’t get back to her because you were busy. This was a problem entirely of your own making, and there’s no need for the three of you to sit down together to discuss.

What you do need to do is take what this employee said into consideration. Let’s look at the facts.

  1. The supervisor accuses the employee.
  2. You find no fault with the employee.
  3. You work closely with the supervisor, and so the employee assumes you are friends.
  4. You do not update the accused for two weeks and then only do after she complains.

Of course, it looks like you are favoring the supervisor! And I suspect that you were putting off circling back because you don’t want to deal with it.

This is not because you’re a bad HR manager–it’s because you’re human and you do like the supervisor. It’s very, very difficult to sit down with someone you respect and like to say, “Hey, you made an accusation, but it turns out to be false. Let’s watch the video together and figure out how your perception was off.”

Because the supervisor is who you need to talk with about behavior.

Yes, the employee is angry now, but that is the direct result of being falsely accused and ignored. Again, apologize to the employee.

And have a one on one with the supervisor. I don’t know the situation–and don’t know if it was a simple misunderstanding (they happen for sure!) or that the supervisor heard second hand and reported it out of duty (also happens!), or if the supervisor knowingly made a false accusation. But that is where you need to focus.

As for the gossip, well, that happens too. But clearly, someone told the employee. Yes, it would help if you shut down gossip, but don’t assume you’ll ever be able to get complete control of company gossip. Your job is to make sure that no gossip comes from you.

You’re right that the angry employee could poison morale, which is why you need to apologize for not getting back to her for so long. If that doesn’t fix the problem, then you have a different problem. She might still grumble, but she’ll probably get over it.

And let this be two lessons for everyone.

  1. Perception is reality. An HR manager needs to remember to keep perceptions on the up and up.
  2. Investigations should be done quickly. An investigation that can be done by watching one video should be resolved within 48 hours. Otherwise, it looks like you’re hiding something.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

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6 thoughts on “Is this Insubordination?

  1. I think that this HR MGR also needs to be cognizant of the danger that labelling either party’s actions as insubordinate might lead to a claim of retaliation.

  2. This is the kind of thing that gives HR a bad name. The HR Mgr messed up and “got caught” and the employee had no responsibility to follow up with the HR Mgr. I can’t imagine what could keep someone in HR so busy that they could not circle back within 10 days of an investigation. Frankly in my opinion if anyone should get “counseled” it’s the HR Mgr.

    This, “This employee even brought up another issue an employee had with the supervisor that she was not privy to, proving this gossip is floating around work.” is the result of situations like this where there is a lack of direct communication. In the absence of information, people will fill in the blanks on their own.

  3. I wonder how long this HR Manager has been in their role? A critical role for HR is demonstrating effective communication, which was not done so in this scenario. Most people are not taught from a young age effective communication techniques. It comes from self-awareness, experience, learning from errors, as well as interest and practice.

    We cannot expect staff members at any level to communicate openly and effectively if they do not trust HR to do the same. It is no small wonder the trust has been broken and perceptions led to gossip. It can be fixed, but as Suzanne said multiple times, the key is to apologize SINCERELY and GENUINELY. I hope that between Suzanne’s response and the replies left here, this HR Manager learns from the mistake, corrects it, moves on, and doesn’t let it happen again.

  4. If there was an investigation that involved reviewing surveillance footage, then this was not a small incident. I’m assuming this was on the level of theft, assault, or sexual harassment. I couldn’t imagine knowing that someone was innocent and letting them suffer for 10 days. If it was theft or assault, the individual could have been charged with a crime! It’s simple human decency to let an accused person know they are safe.
    Is the letter writer really saying they did not have 5 minutes to pick up the phone and say “I watched the video and I didn’t see anything suspicious. I’m finishing up the investigation and I will follow up with you later, but I wanted to let you know right away that these accusations were false.”
    If my manager was making up wild accusations, and I heard nothing from HR, then I would also assume that a conspiracy was being brewed. I give the accused employee credit for staying as cool as they did and just sending an email.

  5. If anyone here is “poison[ing] the work culture and morale” with their actions here it’s the supervisor, along with the HR Mgr with their inaction.

    The spurious accusation of “insubordination” reads like HR Mgr (along with management) thinks the complainant should shut up and “know their place”. Super toxic!

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