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When managers get caught in the cross fire

Blair McPherson

An accusation of unprofessional conduct prompts a counter accusation of homophobia. Then both parties turn on their managers for failing to take appropriate action. HR to the rescue. Contributor Blair McPherson, Former Local Authority Director and author.

 Would you really be surprised to learn that teachers in the staff room make some pretty derogatory remarks about pupils? That nurses have expressions for patients who are demanding or overly dramatic or that GPs complain about “regulars” with their non-specific aliments. What would you think about a colleague reporting such remarks to your professional body with the threat of censure or even striking you off?

Recently a social worker found themselves in this position. A colleague goes over their managers head and makes a complaint of inappropriate behaviour straight to the professional body. The member of staff, supported by the union, takes out a grievance claiming  the colleague is malicious and motivated by homophobia.

The manager is unhappy with both of them but dismisses both parties behaviour as a personality conflict.

Both members of staff take a grievance out against their manager the first for failing to address “a history of inappropriate behave”. The second for failing to provide support in the face of “sustained homophobic behaviour”. Senior management commission an independent investigation into grievances against the manager  to determine whether they are upheld. Now it’s the managers turn to feel under scrutiny and unsupported.

What are the HR issues and lessons to be learnt. Managers need to challenge all and any inappropriate behaviour. Managers should not dismiss complaints between staff as a clash of personalities but seek HR support in investigating and resolving issues within the team. HR advice should be sort at an early stage, attempts should be made by the manager to resolve conflict in the team informally before it gets into formal processes. At the informal stage HR are there to advice and support managers but once formal stages are initiated then HR are there to ensure the organisations procedures are followed.


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