Nip Office Gossip & Drama in the Bud

January 10, 2024

What’s the best way to deal with office gossip and drama? The resulting conflict is hurting productivity and morale.

As we get to the other side of the pandemic and the interruptions COVID-19 caused in the workplace, employees are beginning to come back to work in person rather than working totally remotely. With that comes the age-old office drama issues.

Office drama and gossip can be minor, but, left unchecked, they can lead to reduced productivity and morale, if not potential legal issues.

If employees are engaged in drama, a supervisor or HR personnel should deal with it as soon as possible. The more serious management takes it, the less likely it is to fester and become a bigger problem.

In a recent real-world example, office drama was left largely unchecked. As a result, the coworkers escalated their actions from simple drama and gossip to a physical altercation. The employee who engaged in the physicality was fired. Shortly after, the discharged employee filed a complaint alleging disability discrimination. The employer then had to hire counsel to defend the company.

The disability complaint likely would never have occurred but for the escalation of the original gossip and drama. The complaint had little to no merit, and it was likely filed in retaliation for management’s purported failure to deal with the issues.

The best approach is to take early action in response to office gossip and drama. A designated person in HR or management should meet, separately, with all persons involved. The employees should be given a fair opportunity to air their grievances, and all parts of the investigation should be well documented in each employee’s personnel file.

In the real-world example, had management engaged in earlier action, the employer could have relied on the documentation it had in each employee’s personnel file. Without that documentation, and without having conducted an earlier investigation, the company now faces significant legal challenges and costs to defend itself.

This article, slightly modified to note recent updates, was featured online in the Wisconsin Employment Law Letter and published by BLR®—Business & Legal Resources. Reproduced here with the permission of BLR®—Business & Legal Resources.