Work Place Drama: What would you do?

Work is a leading source of stress and anxiety, and yes DRAMA. Some people love drama, as an observer I don’t deny that when things get spicy life can be interesting but there is a line that you shouldnt cross because it can become harassment. So for today’s post lets chat about something that happened at work (article can be found here) and I will give my two cents.

From the article: “A woman didn’t accommodate her vegan coworker and now people at work think she was mean. She explained what happened on Reddit’s “Am I the A******” forum to see if she was justified. Her coworker Carla was never the kind of vegan that tried to convert meat-eaters, but one day Carla made a request that seemed unfair. She asked the Reddit poster to eat her hamburger outside during her lunch break because she didn’t like the smell. It was cold and snowing so she ate it in the only breakroom, but the move didn’t go over well with her coworkers.”

Now the article doesn’t delve to deeply but this is an interesting scenario and as a former manager I am glad I don’t have to deal with. So some of the points to consider:

  1. Carla is a vegan and the smell of her coworker’s hamburger was making her feel I’ll
  2. Carla asked the Coworker to eat it outside.
  3. It was cold and snowy, the co-worker refused and ate the burger in the designated break room
  4. Carla told other people in the company about this incident, and the woman with the burger is now deemed “mean” at work.

For more context read the article, it’s not long. So as a manager if this issue is brought to me I have to think of both sides. I can’t assume one person is 100% wrong absent of facts. What is described above doesn’t appear to be, on the surface as a violation of any policy. A coworker got lunch and ate it in the breakroom. Conversely, the request to eat outside because it was making Carla feel sick is not unreasonable save for the caveat that it was cold and snowy.

Work Drama ! Everyone’s hair is on fire !

Neither party is wrong here, and we do not have context on what Carla said about the incident to other people. Meaning, Carla can tell other what happened, its factually correct. If (BIG IF) Carla supposed the burger eater’s intent was to cause distress, or called her a name, or embellished the story that’s problematic. We don’t know if that happened or not.

So you are a manager or an HR professional and you get this situation, what do you do?

Answer: You have both parties in to meet and hear each side of the story. You ask if it is possible to have alternative meal times and if that would solve the issue. If Carla proclaims that the smell makes her, I’ll you ask if the burger eater can have the meal at the point of purchase and not bring it to the office. If the burger purchaser proclaims that isn’t fair, and that she is using the break room as intended, you resolve it by providing a 2nd location to have their meals (perhaps your office).

Now this issue flips, if a vegan brings something in that makes the burger eater not feel well the same accommodation and issue arises. This is a small, but very important example of what happens in the work place circa 2010ish on. I’ve seen things like this happened before, where one person is uncomfortable and accommodations have to be made. This is an enormous source of stress for management as this has the potential to morph. Any employee can now state that “X” food makes them feel sick, precedent has been set.

What would you do?

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