A while back we described the second worst mistake managers make when handling an employee complaint (not listening). Now let’s describe the worst.

Scenario: An openly gay employee named Mark comes into your office and complains that he’s being harassed by fellow employees in the warehouse. You probe for details and Mark insists the instigator is Roger, a long-time employee.

YOU: Mark, I’ve known Roger for years and I have never once heard him make a derogatory comment to anyone. Are you sure you understood him correctly?

MARK: Oh, I’m sure. He called me a filthy perverted fag. Not much to misunderstand there, wouldn’t you say?

YOU: Really, Roger said that? I’m shocked. It sure doesn’t sound like Roger.

Now, imagine that from this point on your organization did everything right. You went directly to HR and they conducted a thorough investigation. And they found that Roger didn’t harass Mark.

You’re free and clear, right?

Not so fast. Your skepticism about Mark’s claim, which you verbalized by saying “I’m shocked,” could give Mark and his lawyers enough traction to take you to court. It implies that you assumed that Roger was innocent, and therefore that Mark was guilty of lying. Assuming guilt or innocence is the biggest mistake a supervisor can make when an employee files a complaint.

The bottom line? When employees make complaints like these, listen. Take good notes. Ask questions and get all the facts. But don’t judge.

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