Managing Workplace Interpersonal Conflict

As an employer, it’s important to build a team that works together cohesively to maintain daily operations and improve the bottom line. Certain petty disputes may not seem like they’re urgent enough to get involved in, but it’s essential to proactively address these conflicts to maintain a positive work environment and avoid potential liability. There are many ways for employers to effectively manage employee interpersonal conflicts to stay compliant with relevant legal obligations. The right legal strategies and policies can protect your company, and foster a positive work environment for a strong and talented team.

Understanding Employer Responsibilities

As a California employer, there are certain legal obligations that must be met regarding workplace conflicts of any kind. Every work environment must be free from harassment, discrimination, and hostile behaviors. If an employee reports that they are experiencing harassment, employers must conduct a fair, thorough, and confidential investigation and document all interactions. 

Start by interviewing the employee regarding their complaint. The accused party should also have a chance to tell their side of the story. It’s not always necessary to disclose who made the initial complaint, but the accused must confirm that they understand the allegations made against them. If additional employees were involved, they should be interviewed discreetly to confirm whether or not the events occurred. After all relevant data and documentation has been collected, a conclusion should be made. If it’s determined that the accused has violated company policy, reasonable disciplinary action may be taken. 

Employee Handbook and Appropriate Documentation

In order to maintain a positive and safe working environment, there must be clear expectations and enforcement policies to explicitly prohibit harassment and discrimination of any kind. Without these policies, employees may not understand their own obligations. Conducting training and making sure that all employees have access to updated policies and procedures is an essential part of preventing conflicts. 

Employee handbooks should outline the company’s code of conduct, policies, specific procedures, and when necessary, consequences for failing to comply. All employees need to receive, review, and sign to confirm that they understand the behavior that is expected of them. This documentation will be important when conflict does arise. It is easier to take action against employees who knowingly violate policies and safeguards employers from retaliatory accusations about unfair treatment. 

Appropriate Dispute Resolution

After investigating and making a determination about whether policies have been violated, it’s not always easy to know how to take action. The employee policy should include a robust dispute resolution clause to provide structure and transparency to the process. In some cases, it’s possible to resolve disputes using mediation or arbitration before litigation. Appropriate dispute resolution should also have a structured discipline policy that outlines a series of corrective actions, such as verbal warnings, written warnings, and suspensions–leading to termination if necessary. This will ensure that disciplinary actions are consistent, well-documented, and in line with applicable employment laws. 

Properly protecting your company from liability will require detailed records of all workplace conflicts, disciplinary actions, and resolutions. From the time an employee reports for work to the moment they leave, they should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and what will happen if they fail to meet those expectations. The best way to do this is by enlisting the assistance of legal counsel. Not only can the team at Integrated General Counsel provide guidance on the best course of action for all kinds of disputes, we can also help you establish the policies and procedures needed to protect your business. For a free consultation, call (925) 399-1529 (1LAW) today.

Integrated General Counsel