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Topic: Are arguments among employees illegal or HR-able?

Messages (6) Visitors (3858)

Member since 04/12/2012
Are arguments among employees illegal or HR-able?
04/12/2012 / 12:03 pm    #1


EmpA (male) and EmpB (female) have a 10-minute discussion that becomes heated.
They are not in the same command chain, no senior-subordinate relationship, no sexual relationship

Emp A: Raised voice first; talked while EmpB was talking.
Emp B: Also raised voice; talked while EmpA was talking; told EmpA to "shut up and get out of my office"; said EmpA was "trying to control everything"; said "EmpA had an attitude"

EmpB went to HR.


1) Nothing says that employees have to get along with each other or like each other. Arguments are not illegal unless they cross physical, sexual, protected class, etc. boundaries.

2) Employees are discouraged from running to HR for every argument.

3) "Hostile environment" does not apply here because there is not a sexual element.
"Hostile environment" is not the same as "argumentative environment".

4) Neither employee has a valid basis for an HR claim. They should agree to disagree and move on.

Are these conclusion points correct and complete?




Member since 08/17/2007
Re: Are arguments among employees illegal or HR-able?
05/14/2012 / 10:01 pm    #2

I agree with your conclusions, but I think there is another issue, why was the supervisor by-passed in favor of HR? (S)he knew or should have known about the incident, and it was her/his responsibility to counsel the employees as to their conduct and impact on the morale, efficiency and productivity of the department. (S)he should have taken corrective action, either issued a warning to the employees (to the effect that future occurances will result in more severe discipline) or assigned them separate areas of responsibility so as to minimize personal interaction.

As the saying goes "What happens in . . . stay in . . ."



Member since 05/29/2012
Re: Are arguments among employees illegal or HR-able?
06/01/2012 / 12:59 pm    #3

I have to disagree with you in part.

Hostile work environment does not have to have an element of sexual misconduct. Hostile work environment can be based on anything, but is severe enough a reasonable person might quit.

If this was a one-time occurrence, then, no, it is unlikely to qualify as hostile work environment.

Also, HR should never ignore any complaint. All complaints should be documented and followed up on. Otherwise you could be accused of ignoring a pattern of behavior and failing to protect your employees. Even if the finding is that it was a mutual disagreement that escalated, document it.

HR is also a good source for mediation assistance. They could be referred to a supervisor or another party, or HR could conduct the mediation themselves. Other options would be to have the participants of the argument participate in training: communication, dispute resolution, workplace conflict, etc.


Member since 08/17/2007
Re: Re: Are arguments among employees illegal or HR-able?
06/01/2012 / 5:27 pm    #4


I have to disagree. Hostile work environment harassment occurs when unwelcome commentsor conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

In addition, the conduct must be on-going and pervasive. a brief "flare-up" between two employees (one male and the other female) does not rise to the level of "unwelcomed conduct". In fact, there are cases where a single incident involving a legally protected employee, have held that no violation occurred.

There is no indication that Employee B went to HR before she went to her supervisor, however, if that occurred, then she failed to follow the "chain of command."

By failing to make her/him aware of the outburst and allowing her/him to address the situation (either by one-on-one counselling, mediation, simple fact-finding, or other means), the supervisor was probably "blindsided" by HR with the request of "what happened?"

If the supervisor does not know the facts, HR assumes that (s)he is (a) incompetent, or (b) ignored the situation, or (c) does not know what is going on in the area. In any case, not good for the supervisor who envisions the episode as a "black mark" on the next performance review.

You also assume that HR has the talent, time and training to "mediate" the issue. While in some large organizations, HR is a kingdom of its own, with specialists in areas from Affirmative Action to Safety/ Worker Compensation, most organizations have a generalist or two to handle these areas.

As an HR Manager, I have never worked with more than 5 people (2 Generalists, 1 Medical Administrator, 1 Pension Administrator and a Secretary, shared by all) in the department. There were no HR representatives in the 26 outlying locations, so all non-medical/ non-pension problems were the responsibility of the Generalists. In some cases (NLRB, OSHA, EEOC, etc.), outside counsel was utilized, but the burden fell on the Generalists. As you can imagine, we promoted and endorsed the "chain of command" theory.

Just some thoughts.



Member since 05/29/2012
Re: Re: Re: Are arguments among employees illegal or HR-able?
06/12/2012 / 4:36 pm    #5

Your company might not be criminally liable, but are you sure you want to find out what the civil penalties are when your employee sues you? Or when they claim disability/FMLA due to emotional distress caused by an intolerable workplace?

Just because your Company won't be criminally at fault does not mean you should ignore behavior like this.


Member since 02/07/2013
Re: Re: Re: Re: Are arguments among employees illegal or HR-able?
04/23/2013 / 1:05 pm    #6

We always say to document these, but where are they placed? In an employee's file? In a folder somewhere? How do we as HR keep track of them?


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