Diversity & Inclusion

Life Happens: How to Defuse Personal Dramas at Work

Question: We have received several complaints from employees about two coworkers who are having a hard time keeping their personal lives out of the workplace. The employees claim it is affecting their ability to concentrate and feel comfortable at work. One is going through a divorce and supposedly cries to his coworkers. The other is a recovering alcoholic who has frequent angry outbursts. How can we help the team but also help the two offenders?

coworkersAnswer:  You must find a balance. Although you don’t want the company to suffer because the employees cannot handle their situations professionally, you also don’t want to invite any future lawsuits by treating them differently. Your human resources representative should sit down with each employee and listen to their personal issues. It’s important, however, that the HR person avoid offering any advice to the employees on how to deal with their issues or criticize them for feeling the way they do.

The HR representative should remind the two employees separately of the company’s core values and apprise them that the whole organization benefits when everyone is productive. HR should gently bring to their attention that others in the workplace have noticed their cries and angry outbursts and that it has affected their ability to focus and concentrate. The employees may not be aware of the consequences their actions are having on others because they have submerged themselves in their personal issues.

While it’s crucial to give direct and honest feedback, the HR representative should remain empathetic toward the two employees. You should document their outbursts and the meetings along with statements from any coworkers who feel uncomfortable or are unable to concentrate. If no improvements are seen, as an option of last resort, you may put some physical distance between the offending employees and the rest of the team by, for example, rearranging desks or projects. If you’re willing, you could allow the two employees to work from home for a period of time. Ultimately, you will want to establish and document that you took steps to address the issues.

Jacob M. Monty of Monty & Ramirez, LLP, practices at the intersection of immi­gration and labor law. He is the managing partner of the Houston firm and editor of Texas Employment Law Letter. He may be contacted at jmonty@montyramirezlaw.com.