Compliance Partner General How To Handle The...
How To Handle The Office Tattletale In The COVID-19 Era
By Judy Kneiszel

A survey released by CareerBuilder a few years ago reported that 44 percent of workers have witnessed coworkers tattling on others in the workplace.
That survey was taken before COVID-19 gave employees hygiene-related issues to tattle about, such as coworkers not properly washing hands, or not wearing masks, or not socially distancing outside of the workplace.

If you are the supervisor or HR manager who is fielding these “reports,” knowing what to do when someone comes to you with this type of information about a coworker can be challenging. On one hand, you want all employees to remain safe and healthy. On the other hand, you don’t want to encourage a tattletale.

Times when you must act on a tattletale’s tip

There are some scenarios when “telling” on a coworker is the right thing to do. These are instances of:
1.            Harassment
2.            Discrimination
3.            Potential violence
4.            Serious safety violations

If someone comes to you reporting any one of these, you have an obligation to investigate.

Tattling about job performance

When it comes to employees “tattling” on coworkers about job performance issues, you may want to nip that sort of reporting in the bud or you could quickly find yourself in a toxic workplace.

Take any reporting employees aside and explain that you appreciate their belief that you need to know what’s going on, especially since you can’t always be everywhere monitoring everyone. However, reassure them that you have a handle on the team’s work performance.

Be clear with them that when it comes to this type of issue, they should not feel compelled to come to you with that information.

Performance problems generally become clear to supervisors without the offending party’s coworkers pointing them out.

Tattling in the time of COVID-19

Here is where 2020 has made handling tattlers tricky. If an employee comes to you and reports that a coworker is not wearing a mask as required, or not washing hands properly, you may want to address it in general terms by reminding everyone of proper protocol. Or you could observe the entire team and privately speak to anyone who clearly needs reminding.

A tale of tattling: What would you do?

What should you do if Bill scurries into your office on Monday morning to tell you that Lisa posted on social media about being at a party over the weekend? He’s sure partygoers weren’t wearing masks or staying six feet from one another.

While Bill is convinced Lisa is going to infect the entire staff due to her recklessness, you have observed Lisa is following all safety protocols at work, and you don’t have any evidence that Lisa was exposed to COVID-19 over the weekend.

There are several ways you could address the situation, and the severity of that response will depend on your location and the type of organization you work for.
If you work for a residential care facility in an area that is a “hot spot” for COVID-19, your response may be different than if your geographic location has seen relatively few cases and your employees have no client contact and are both masked and quite separated from each other during the workday.

You may, however, want to respond this way: Reassure Bill or any tattling employee that the safety measures mandated in your workplace are designed to keep everyone safe, and as long as you see that the “offender” is abiding by those requirements, you’re not going to interfere.

If complaints about off-duty risk taking are persistent, you might want to take a health survey of workers and ask if any employees:
  • Have been in close contact with a confirmed or presumptive case of COVID-19.
  • Are complying with any state or local stay-at-home or masking orders.
Also remind employees to stay home if they have symptoms. You may also want to let employees know that their priority should be their own actions and precautions, rather than trying to “catch” others breaking the rules.

Judy Kneiszel is the editor of the Employee Relations Management Today newsletter and the Essentials of Employee Relations Manual from J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. She specializes in issues such as recruiting and hiring, onboarding and training, team building, employee retention, and labor relations.   

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