Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A business owner from Wisconsin called me the other to talk about a sensitive dispute between two female employees, one an aggressive bi-sexual (i.e., Mary), the other a religious conservative (i.e., Jane).  As one would imagine in these polarizing times, the search for common ground was one step too far to achieve.

The owner, gentle and restrained by nature, was like most owners nowadays, frustrated by the nature of yet another adolescent kerfuffle and upset by it detracting from her normal workday that is ironically aimed at getting both employees paid each week.  The owner began to tell me the story.  Upon hearing the preamble, I interrupted the owner to inquire if her company had EPLI coverage as a potential safety net in the event that momentum would take a negative, litigious turn.  Having been an avid reader of the Tuesdays with Steve postings, she knew that question was inevitable and as such answered with distinct poise, “yes.”  

Gotta love it!

Upon hearing the executive summary version of the dispute, I suggested the owner draft a detailed timeline to capture the sequential nature of the issue, its relevant content, and procedural flow that could ultimately be subpoenaed as a reference; one that would offer sage testimony validating her fairness in traversing through a potentially-damaging soap opera.  In specific, I stated that the timeline must be anchored by dates, bound by direct evidence from Mary, Jane, and actual witnesses, and be declaratively objective, devoid of intuition, bias, or hope.  

To underscore that mindset, she chuckled comfortably, when I told her that “You must be completely neutral; you must be Switzerland” as I reminded her that both Mary and Jane were innocent until proven guilty, that she must be dispassionately pristine in encoding all the information, synthesizing the facts, and distributing a prudent judgment.  Anything short of that expectation could deleteriously shift the focus onto her instead of Mary and Jane.  She concurred appreciatively.

Building upon the timeline stepping-stone, I then admonished the business owner that her eventual decision must be linearly proportional to the event.  At my introductory level of awareness, this interpersonal disagreement would most likely be resolved through verbal coaching, unlikely indicative of written reprimand, suspension, or termination.  But again, we would let the facts, not opinion or predisposition dictate that consequence. 

A week later, the business owner sent a copy of the timeline to me, replete with names, dates, comments, and an orderly flow that would have made the Orinoco proud.   Based upon the content, process, and context of the event, she concluded that Jane made several comments about Mary’s sexual orientation that were inappropriate for the workplace.

As we discussed to punctuate closure, the business owner crafted a cogent memo to Mary and Jane, summarizing the incident, the data gathering process, and her judgment.  Moreover, she reminded both parties that any hint of retaliation would be viewed negatively and be addressed swiftly.  Upon finishing the letters, she supported her commitment to a “results-based team-oriented” culture based on organizational success, not personal value systems, orientations, or preferences, by pledging to meet with both women in several weeks as a follow-up mechanism to calm any lingering emotions, address latent concerns, and pivot forward as a team.

In sum, the owner did an exemplary job following the process as designed, letting the evidence drive the decision, all the while remaining cognizant of potential impact on the company culture currently in place and the one, she is trying to build for the future.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.