24

I am a team leader* of 3 teams in a quite big company (about 1500 employees around the world and about 300 in my office, the headquarter).

Recently I was asked to add a person (call them X) to one of my teams. The history of X is troubled and I am a bit concerned. A few months ago X went to the HR accusing a manager (call them M) of harassment. After a brief investigation, the HR fired M, but:

  • X went directly to the HR, bypassing the internal procedure and the chain of command
  • The investigation and the people involved should have been remained confidential, whereas in the office (and in other offices, even abroad) everyone knows the fact, the people involved and the outcome
  • The nature of the accusation should also have been remained confidential, but again this information is public domain
  • We don’t know if the accusations were true or not: M was fired but M also received a huge amount of money upon their dismissal (in this case, a big part of the document with the agreement was leaked to the public by an unknown source). X does not received any compensation
  • X was removed from the original team

X was proposed to 3 other team leaders, all refused to add X: all have put forward technical/technological reasons, but the real motivation is this story. They had only a single gap to fill in their teams, so it was easy to refuse, but in one of my teams I have 4 gaps.

I am concerned because I see the first step (going directly to the HR bypassing the internal procedure and the chain of command) as a potential sign of anarchy, disrespect for the superiors and allergy to the rules. In addition, some team members told me that they are very uncomfortable to work with someone so keen to contact HR. Whereas other team leaders told me they have the real fear to be falsely accused or to be involved in HR investigations based on accusation by X (one team leader said he is 100% sure that now that X found how to get a manager fired, X will use this power for their own advantage every time X needs).

Are my concerns valid? Am I right to be worried about adding such a person in one of my teams? Are concerns from other team leaders real?

*= A small note: I'm a team leader not a manager. I coordinate all technical/technological aspects of IT projects. I take part to all communications between the teams and the clients, I do interviews to candidate for my teams (and my opinion is, usually, binding), I can move people among my teams, I usually define the project roadmap, I can propose employees for promotions/rises. I cannot hire, fire or discipline employees, I cannot move an employee to teams I'm not leading, I cannot sign contracts, I cannot take employees from other teams, I do not have control on project economics/financials, I cannot promote an employee or give them a rise.


After about 10 days from the request to add X to my team (period during which I simply waited and tried to avoid making a decision) I've decided to not decide: today I wrote to my manager asking him to decide if I have to try to let X enter or not. He took time in turn and told me he will organized in the following weeks a meeting with HR to discuss this topic. I'll update this question with relevant outcomes


Update: After more than a week, my manager informed me that the meeting with HR was unproductive, so he decided to wait for his boss's decision. In the meanwhile X was transferred from their office to a single office in another building where there are no people from our division (this decision came directly from upper management). I filled 2 of the 4 gaps in my team (an internal transfer and a new hire that will begin soon).


Update 2: today I was informed by my manager that his boss and the HR had decided to arrange an interview with me, my manager and X for next week (yet to be scheduled). Some team members wrote an email to me and my manager repeating their discomfort to work with X


Update 3 (final update): No interview will take place, yesterday an email from HR informed that X resigned and is returning to their home country: in agreement with the company, X will not serve the notice period. Strange enough this email: HR has never announced a resignation as in this case, especially addressing the email to 60+ people (including the member of my team). But I think this is a very special case. I think I dodged a very big bullet.


Real final update: M has been hired back as soon as X left the company. M invited a lot of people (including me) to a small party next week to celebrate their re-join.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Jul 1 at 17:44
  • Would you please offer a general clarification on the nature of the accusation? Was it harassment or something else? – Myles Jul 16 at 15:11
  • @Myles as I wrote, it was harassment – Jeremy X Jul 16 at 15:22
  • 11
    To me this sounds like everyone in the company trying to 'kill' (blame) the whistleblower. It also sounds like your company has a serious ethical problem as apparently confidential information is leaked left and right (which might also be the reason the person went straight to HR instead of going through the chain of command). – Mark Rotteveel Jul 22 at 12:36
  • @MarkRotteveel The ethical part can be true apart that, in my opinion (and not only in my opinion), the majority of the confidential information leaked from HR itself – Jeremy X Jul 22 at 13:38

11 Answers 11

55

I am concerned

Great, you are telling us what you are concerned about! Let's go through it.

because I see the first step (going directly to the HR bypassing the internal procedure and the chain of command) as a potential sign of anarchy, disrespect for the superiors and allergy to the rules.

Anarchy? Seriously?

It should give you pause that apparently, HR did not tell X to go back up the chain of command. If straight up escalating to HR was unjustified, they could have told X "Please talk to [other person in chain of command] first, and if that doesn't work, come back to us". There will have been a reason why they didn't - maybe X already had tried and you are not privy to that detail, because as you are aware, you don't have the full picture. Maybe the grandboss or whoever was complicit in the harassment, but managed to avoid blame. Or a thousand other things you are not privy to.

Instead of sending X through the chain of command, they preferred to fire a manager with an NDA and a very generous settlement payment. Think about that.

In addition, some team members told me that they are very uncomfortable to work with someone so keen to contact HR.

Let's skip that one for now and come back to it later.

Whereas other team leaders told me they have the real fear to be falsely accused or to be involved in HR investigations based on accusation by X (one team leader said he is 100% sure that now that X found how to get a manager fired, X will use this power for their own advantage every time X needs).

These concerns of other team leaders should not factor into your decision for yourself. You said in the comments that you do not agree that X has gained anything by it. Instead, as @Eric said, X is finding themselves repeatedly blocked in their career with flimsy excuses, has had no other gain whatsoever (except getting rid of M), has a negative reputation throughout the company, and you can bet they are aware of it. In fact, I would bet that X was aware that would happen, and yet decided to go to HR despite of it. So what possible motivation could X have to frivolously bring an accusation against you? You have standing to gain with X if you take them on, not to lose.

Let's get back to that other one:

some team members told me that they are very uncomfortable to work with someone so keen to contact HR.

That is a problem, yes. You need to find out what precisely their concerns are. Do they believe X will drag them to HR over some petty disagreement on business processes? Do they believe you will not be able to adequately protect them from aggressive behavior by X? Is it simply a matter of principle ("if I have to obey the chain of command, so should X")? Does your HR have a reputation that supports those other concerns?

Then you need to think about whether you find those concerns valid, and if not, how to quell those.

And even though you did not ask for it: I would think hard about whether the current policy of "go up the chain of command even in cases of blatant harassment" is sensible, and if you have enough standing, campaigning for changing it.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    About the team concerns: someone told me that they believe X will drag them to HR over some petty disagreement on business processes; nobody complains about I will not be able to adequately protect them from aggressive behavior by X; someone talked about procedures and chain of command; I didn't interact with HR in the past and this i the first time such a case occurs – Jeremy X Jul 1 at 9:33
  • 1
    @JeremyX The first two points are contradictory, if they are from the same person. The question is, do your team members believe that HR will be against them? Ask them what they are basing those fears on. Also, my questions are more of jumping board in case your team members say "I cannot put the finger on it, I am just concerned". The list is not exhaustive. – LokiRagnarok Jul 1 at 9:45
  • 24
    Regarding the anarchy statement: In all companies I was so far, the official way to deal with harassment was directly go to HR or a dedicated person, not to talk to your superior harasser... – Frank Hopkins Jul 2 at 11:09
  • 4
    @Kevin there's a distinction between early attempts to stop the behaviour in a nice way and finally lodging a complaint. Sure, for mild cases you react appropriately to try and shut them up the moment they do it (if you feel safe enough for that) or ask them once or twice to stop it, but once you reached the point where you are about to officially complain, you typically are supposed to complain to HR or a gender issue representative and not the harrasser or their boss. The chain of command is for business issues, not for general people (miss)behaviour (assuming there is a proper HR). – Frank Hopkins Jul 8 at 16:40
  • 2
    @FrankHopkins Just to be clear, based on all the information available, I am 100% on X's side in this issue and don't think they did anything wrong. Just my personal ethos that issues should always be handled at the lowest level possible. But I also realize that as a straight white guy, I'm in a privileged position as far as addressing issues. – Kevin Jul 8 at 17:37
141

I suspect you're not going to like this answer, but I'm going to write it anyway: you are part of the problem. X was harassed and there was enough evidence for your employer to terminate M's employment. You are now attempting to use the fact that M was a bad person as a reason to avoid having X on your team. There's a term for that, and it is victim blaming.

You, and your fellow managers, are making it harder for other victims of harassment to stand up for their basic right not to be harassed. They'll see what happened to X who made a legitimate complaint and was then discriminated against by the rest of the organisation.

| improve this answer | |
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Jul 1 at 17:44
  • 13
    This answer makes assumptions that are contrary to the question, namely "X was harassed" versus "We don’t know if the accusations were true or not". I understand were the answer comes from, but it both: doesn't help OP and conveys stereotypes. – Jeffrey Jul 3 at 12:53
  • 7
    @Jeffrey HR found the accusations founded enough to fire M over, with a strong compensation package. For all intents and purposes we can assume the accusations were founded. – Cronax Jul 16 at 14:03
  • 2
    @Cronax There are a wide variety of non-harassment reasons that M could have been fired over and certain company would prefer to keep quiet. Embezzlement, privacy breach, gross incompetence, illegal trade practices like collusion, insider trading, etc. – Myles Jul 16 at 15:08
  • 2
    @Myles Theoretically, sure. In practice, it's extremely unlikely that someone would get fired for something wholly unrelated right after allegations are made against them... – Cronax Jul 20 at 7:23
24

I am concerned because I see the first step (going directly to the HR bypassing the internal procedure and the chain of command) as a potential sign of anarchy, disrespect for the superiors and allergy to the rules.

Like it or not, these are the new rules. A victim of sexual harassment has every right to avoid the chain of command and go directly to HR.

Are my concerns valid? Am I right to be worried about adding such a person in one of my teams? Are concerns from other team leaders real?

Yes, your concerns and worries are valid.

But what are you going to do? You shouldn't even have that information in the first place. Did the chain of command give it to you? Whoever leaked this information in the first place is the real person that needs to be fired.

Understand this. Right now, it's in the interest of your company to put this person on your team (the team with the most gaps). If your company doesn't find a place for that person, it will be perceived as retaliation.

Take that person in. Give that person a chance. Avoid events with alcohol. Follow the HR rules. Focus on what you can control. And forget about the rest. And if you do get fired for some reason, I'm pretty sure that you'll be able to bounce back and get a new job somewhere else anyway.

| improve this answer | |
  • I don't know who leaked the information on the HR investigation, but we have a strong suspicion that the leak came from HR itself. Whereas the leak on the arrangement document probably came from M (not directly, with the help of someone) – Jeremy X Jul 1 at 9:24
  • 6
    @JeremyX, Well, it was more of a rhetorical question anyway. My point is that this kind of gossip needs to stop. Not that you'll be able to stop it, but at least, make your stance clear enough to make people understand that you won't tolerate that kind of gossiping in front of you. – Stephan Branczyk Jul 1 at 9:44
  • 3
    In a situation like this I can’t see why you would go to anyone other than HR. – Rich Jul 6 at 1:05
18

Let's take out the skills set out of the equation.

Maybe that X person actually had a real problem with M, which would make sense with most of the arguments you said. In this case, and no matter what, I don't see why you should be "worried". X went to HR because something with M made them feel uncomfortable enough to think that the problem needed escalation.

Plus I don't find it "fair" to judge someone on a previous bad situation they found themselves in.

Just act correctly and professionally and see how it goes.

| improve this answer | |
13

I would re-phrase the question.

Instead of "Asked to add someone who got their last manager fired to me team, am I right to be concerned?" I would phrase as "Add someone to my team who's last manager was fired for harassment?"

The previous manager was fired for their choice to behave unprofessionally (in this case some form of harassment). Your new report didn't cause the manager to be let go - it was the managers behavior that lead to the action.

As for how you and your team treat the new employee - treat him/her as any other new employee (inside transfer or outside hire) - set goals & expectations and treat them as any other professional.

| improve this answer | |
  • 9
    Problem being the details are sketchy. The one who was fired got a massive payout, and the OP doesn't know the details. False accusations are as real a concern as retaliation. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 1 at 14:41
  • 4
    @Old_Lamplighter It's not too uncommon to give a payout to someone who was fired for a cause, especially if the cause is difficult to definitively prove in court. The company pays more now to avoid expensive lawsuits later. The amount depends on the person and situation and can be fairly high, e.g. half a years salary. Either way, what "massive" means is very subjective and the person that "leaked" it might also have lied and exaggerated the amount. They still decided to part with the manager instead of just transferring either X or the manager to another team. – Morfildur Jul 2 at 7:23
  • 2
    @Morfildur yes, I'm familiar. It's also common to pay someone to go away even if they've done nothing wrong if it is the path of least resistance. Insurance companies pay out millions in claims that they know are false in order to avoid tens of millions in frivolous lawsuits. It's a numbers game. You've got to be careful – Old_Lamplighter Jul 2 at 12:46
8

Yes, you are right to be concerned, as should anyone in your position.

All you know is that this employee was in a conflict, and that the other person was fired, and you don't know any details. The fact that the person let go was let go with a generous package is also concerning.

If you accept this person, you accept any and all risk to yourself, and your team.

Sadly, false reporting is a thing, and it's a sensitive issue right now. Companies would rather pay off an unjustly accused employee than risk that the accusation be true, and they open themselves up for liability.

Note, I am not saying this is right, just that it happens.

Given that reality, you are right to be concerned.

Now, the choice you have to make is whether or not you want to take on the risk.

If you take this person, and this person turns out to be a problem, you're in a tough spot because ANY action you take, even with a solid paper trail, could be called "retaliation". Even worse, this person could just be out to cause trouble, and you could end up with a false accusation leveled at YOU

If you don't take this person, and this person's complaint was legitimate, you are making things worse for this person who will have had their career stymied just for pursuing a justified action.

Either way, you could potentially be the bad guy.

Your concerns are justified, now you have to decide which potential bad action is worse: Taking the risk of bringing in a potential troublemaker, or taking the risk of alienating someone who did no wrong.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    If the company is in the habit of paying off unjustly accused employees, then the bad case sounds like it might be pretty lucrative. – Erik Jul 2 at 6:44
  • 1
    @Erik companies pay off people all the time to avoid difficulties. If they think that paying X to go away because trouble Y will raise will cost them more, they will pay X to go away, irrespective of guilt or innocence – Old_Lamplighter Jul 2 at 12:51
7

I think you should start with by having an interview with X, just as if it was a potential new hire.

Your goal is exactly the same as if this were positions to be filled by external people. You usually want to ascertain their technical capabilities, if they would be motivated by your projects with open positions, if they would ignore their boss orders (some will even outright admit it!), if they would be a good fit in the team, etc.

Exactly as in this case. It is also a perfectly reasonable thing to request before deciding if joining that person to a team or not. You currently don't have enough data. You may never have before hiring someone, but you do what you can. After the interview, maybe your concerns will be gone, or perhaps you will conclude that in the end X is not suitable to join any of your teams.

The usual question "Why did you leave your previous job team?" may need to be left a bit more open than usual, as X may not want to talk about it (or on contrary, X might want to volunteer some of your missing pieces!). Also, I think here you should mention the elephant in the room, and inform X that people in those prospective teams have heard about X.

It is possible that X "being removed from the original team" is actually because they "knew too much" about the story (or were even part of the original problem), and X itself wants/needs a new start (which, sadly, will probably be difficult in your company).

Note that HR must be present in such interview. And you must prepare it with HR in advance.

There will be some questions that can't be asked (and you might not even know that those cannot be asked for this case). It is possible that you may receive some additional data from the preparation session, although HR will be highly constrained on what they can say about what did or did not happen. The preparation with HR may also help to calm down some of your concerns, such as what your company would consider harassment, or the way you should handle interactions with this employee should it end up under your supervision.

| improve this answer | |
  • @Chris I read the question as a less strict request than you. Specially since it was proposed to 3 other team leaders. OP has a few slots, and was suggested to cover them internally with X. I see it can be interpreted in different ways. Also, we don't know the country, so perhaps it's even an inaccurate translation of how it was originally presented. So the answer "I would like to interview them first to they would fit" may perhaps not be available to him. How much wiggle run he actually have will depend on from whom and how the request came from, and on the way of this specific company. – Ángel Jul 2 at 17:54
  • @Ángel I was asked, not forced to add X in one of my team. The request came from upper management, but 3 other team leaders managed to refused this request (even quite easily) – Jeremy X Jul 3 at 6:44
3

Team dynamics is a big factor in the productivity of a team. I'll assume that X will need to collaborate with other team members.

If you feel that other team members under your responsibility may have issue joining the team I would have a one on one chat (or a group chat depending on the dynamic of the team) with them, without X present, and ask them what they think about X joining them. They may welcome it, not care, be doubtful or outright disgusted by the proposition. Whatever the case you will have more data on your side if you want to accept X or not and in the later to justify your choice.

If your decision is purely on the personal side, if you don't feel right to work with X, then try to see it from a purely professional angle. What can it bring to the team, will you be able to manage this person properly. Only you can answer this.

If you want to refuse X, be prepare to be factual and explain the negative outcome to your boss in term of productivity/cost. Refusing someone only because of hearsay and gut feeling may not be welcome in this case.

| improve this answer | |
  • I already had informal chat with team members on this topic: I wrote their concerns in the question. But I not had an official discussion, this could be a good suggestion – Jeremy X Jul 1 at 8:14
  • 6
    This is exceedingly dangerous advice. As one of the comments up above mentions, X could have a case for retaliation for a good faith report of harassment if this continues. A manager cannot abdicate responsibility to their reports like this. Team members don't get to pick their new colleagues, especially not on rumours. It's a recipe for disaster and losing all authority as a manager. – Lilienthal Jul 1 at 11:41
  • 3
    @Lilienthal I agree with your second point. However (outside of op issue) forcing someone disliked in a team is also a recipe for disaster. Taking account of the will of team is part of leadership too. Only forcing decision is never good. – JayZ Jul 1 at 11:48
  • 3
    @JayZ I'd agree in general, but you're setting up a dangerous situation here. The team doesn't know of X apart from rumours and legally they are in incredibly dangerous waters if they let that influence them. As a manager OP is simply not allowed to let this influence him which means he shouldn't open his team up to it either. This calls more for "if we bring X in, I expect you to treat him respectfully as you would any other colleague, can you do that?". I wouldn't go "would you rather (not) have X here?". – Lilienthal Jul 1 at 11:54
  • 4
    @Lilienthal "Team members don't get to pick their new colleagues," Of course they do. The standard process is called "a job interview". If the rest of the team feel strongly enough about this, they will leave (and the most capable team members will leave first, since they will have the easiest time finding new jobs). – alephzero Jul 1 at 17:21
1

one team leader said he is 100% sure that now that X found how to get a manager fired, X will use this power for their own advantage every time X needs

It is important to understand that any report of misconduct always includes the two sides: somebody who behaves wrongly and the reporting person. And it is always that the two cases are possible, not just one:

  • Somebody behaves wrongly, and the reporting person is correct.
  • The reporting person at least partially lies seeking one's own goals.

A term "bad team player" also covers socially skilled team mates that learned how to game the system and move ahead through getting everyone on they way fired or demoted. Real victims of harassment could you please forgive me. Even you should understand that to be falsely accused, it is also not sugar.

I do not know in which degree X could be identified as such a monster, but if there are serious reasons to suspect, I think these may serve as the background to consider other candidates for the open positions.

| improve this answer | |
0

Official policy can vary but generally speaking it's not unusual for a harassment claim about one's manager to be reported directly to HR.

Details being leaked sounds much more problematic, especially if it was intended to make either party and/or the company look bad.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    As I said, I think that the leak was intentional (especially because it is highly probable that, at least some parts, came from HR itself), but I'm not able to figure out the reason(s) behind this behavior – Jeremy X Jul 8 at 14:38
-7

Sad truth. Nobody is going to support you even though every single person here is aware of the current situation. Every man fear false sexual harassment charges since in these kind of charges voices of men are seldom heard.

You need to brush up your skills and prepare your resume. Or move to other team if you are influential.

One of my team member is a DV victim. He was false accused of DV by his wife. Nobody cares about the truth. Law will simply punish men as men are inherently monstrous in nature.

Getting fired for not giving promotions/hike to the female subordinates has been happening in my country.

This is the situation. Learn to live with it. Anticipate the worst and rightfully protect yourself.

It might take another 20+ years to bring balance.

Personally, If I were you, I would avoid all in-person conversations with her. I will bring the other team members to any conversation involved with her. When I talk with her, I will be polite and careful. This approach has worked very well for the managers like you.

For people who suggest to include X

Why risk my career over this? In any risk the gain and loss should be equal. If X turns out to be a normal human being, then the gain is not very big. On the other hand, if X turns out to be a monster, then my career will be put into danger. The loss is an order of magnitude lager than the gain. I will shy away from this risk and so will anyone.

PS: You can easily understand the current situation by counting the downvotes on the perfect answer

| improve this answer | |

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .