Rumors of Employee Misconduct: A Manager’s Guide

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Telephone game at workIt’s an event that occurs regularly in the workplace. An employee tells a supervisor about something a coworker has done (or something he has heard a coworker has done). The supervisor then tells his manager. It’s like an adult version of playing Telephone, but when it occurs in the workplace, it’s not a game at all. Rumor mills bring undesirable drama and discord. Managers must take action every time there is a rumor of misconduct. Outlined below are our recommendations.


  • First, an investigation must be conducted as soon as possible. Take a page from police procedures: separate the witnesses and take written statements (witnesses include anyone who knows about the situation).


  •  When rumors are widespread, this can become quite the production, but it does not need to be overly complicated. Have each witness write down what they know about the situation. It can be as simple as, “On Saturday, July 5th 2014 while I was at my desk Joe Dutton stopped by and told me that he saw Cindy taking money out of the bagel payment jar.”


  • Take precautions to ensure that the witnesses are not communicating with each other during this process (have cell phones removed/turned off; use separate rooms for statement writing).


  • Your goal is to uncover the facts. The statement of the person suspected (or accused) of wrongdoing should be taken and compared against any conflicting statements.


  • Although written statements lessen the chance of misconstruing a certain version of the event in question, you may still need to form a subjective opinion of the truth.


  • Speak personally with each witness after collecting their statement. The goal of this conversation should be twofold: assurance that the problem will be corrected, and prevention of future rumors. First, review the company’s standard procedures regarding the behavior under investigation (i.e., “Stealing from the payment jar is a termination offense”).  Whenever misconduct has taken place in an organization, people count on and sincerely desire their leaders to accurately determine and fairly discipline the responsible parties. Secondly, communicate the damage that rumors produce. If your organization has policies about participating in gossip, this is an appropriate time to review them as well. Encourage your employees to come to you (or their immediate supervisor) directly the next time they witness or hear about misconduct.


  • Take action. Make a decision as to what you believe happened and follow through with your organization’s policies and precedents. Does the situation warrant terminations or disciplinary actions? If so, conduct these promptly and professionally.


  • The last step is to begin to restore unity. The severity of the incident or the disciplinary actions taken will affect the harmony of your team. Sometimes the best restoration is simply the fair and competent corrective actions taken by the leader. Other times, when jobs have been lost, the team may go through a period of adjustment to a new normal. Open and honest communication helps.


Dealing with employee misconduct is unpleasant, and dealing with rumors can be quite annoying.  Unfortunately, these responsibilities often go hand-in-hand. A manager needs to be responsive and just. These two qualities will be respected and appreciated by most employees, and will help to restore order and efficiency to the workplace.



One Response to Rumors of Employee Misconduct: A Manager’s Guide
  1. Excellent outline of a great procedure for handling such matters. Thanks.


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