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Cursing: One Way to Identify a Bogus "I'm Offended!" Claim...

You're an HR pro.  If you're a generalist like me (and I define that as an individual contributor, manager, director or VP who's responsible for everything HR-related under the sun), that means you have employee relations as part of your job for your client group of departments/divisions you serve.  That means from time to time you're going to be the recipient of a COMPLAINT, known to those like you and me in the biz as an EMPLOYEE RELATIONS CLAIM.

The amount of these you get is directly related to the business you are in.  Blue collar businesses (manufacturing, hourly workers and call centers) generate more employeeCussing relations issues, while white collar businesses/departments generate far fewer.

Whatever your situation, you have to be able to tell instinctually what's real and what's not when it comes to these claims. It's what separates a true HR pro from someone who spins their wheels daily.

How do you tell if an employee relations claim is real or not?  Focus first on clearly identifying the claims that are bogus.

Case in point.  The "I'm offended by someone's language" claim. Here's an example from the NFL, which is similar to your workplace in more ways than you might think:

"Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall says Atlanta coach Mike Smith cursed at him and a Falcons assistant tried to "get some licks in" during a sideline melee Sunday.

Hall said he plans to file a complaint with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that Smith "cussed me out" and Falcons director of athletic performance Jeff Fish and others "put their hands on me."

So - you've got a complaint on your hands that cursing was used during an altercation, and someone put their hands on the employee filing the complaint.  See?  Just like your business - someone cursed me and that's against our professional conduct policy.  So they're filing a complaint.

How do you sort out how much credibility the claim has and whether the employee was really offended by the language?

LOL.  Start by listening to the language the employee uses to describe the situation.  Here's more from DeAngelo:

"Hall, a former Falcon, said he was trying to get Landry away from the Falcons sideline when Smith, assistant Jeff Fish and several Atlanta players surrounded him. "After that, coach Smith came over to me, talking (expletive) to me, saying they were going to kick my (butt)," Hall said, via the AP. "I stay in Atlanta during the offseason, so if Mike Smith wants to see me, he can definitely find me."

Note to self and to any HR pros who are finding their way in the employee relations sections of their current role.  If someone is filing a complaint related to bad language and uses the phrase, "then he came up and started talking (expletive) to me", it's likely that individual wasn't truly offended.

They're using curse words to describe the cursing actions of someone else, and trying to pimp you into using your cycle times to make life difficult for an adversary.

The irony.  Do the minimum possible to close the claim and move on.

You laugh, but in blue collar businesses, the manipulative claim happens all the time.

I repeat.  Do the minimum possible to close the claim and move on. Or like Ice-T once said, "you played yourself."




What's up with the blue-collar/white-collar distinction anyway? It's so true. There always seemed to be a lot more "so and so said x and I didn't like it" complaints in my blue-collar jobs than my white-collar ones.

And since when did "offending" somebody become meritorious in the eyes of HR anyway? Most complaints are so stupid that I can't believe HR even entertains them.


Seriously? White collar complains less than blue collar? In my experience, there's a lot more entitled arrogance, a lot less tolerance of inconvenience (with the exception of working hours), and a hell of a lot more manipulation by white collar workers than blue collar workers. The complaints I get from the blue collar workers are "how can I be safe when my manager won't replace my frayed fall protection" and similar reasonable complaints. The white collar sounds like "why do I have to be the smoking police" and "well, I know I never told you or wrote it down, but he's been a discipline problem all along and I wanna get rid of him." I've been at this a while, and it's clear that, as a percentage, there are a lot more bad managers than there are bad employees.

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