A Workplace Investigation Gone Bad


I was watching the news on one of the local television stations and one of their special reporting units attempted to do an exposé on a worksite with municipal workers.  The reporter pointed out there were some workplace issues and I would agree but not necessarily the exact same issues he identified.

The first one is more about the overall purpose of the episode which was the reporter’s attempt  to show evidence of wrongdoing.  The problem  is  we don’t have all the facts in this worksite episode and before we can determine if there actually was any wrongdoing or a problem, we need facts so if there is a problem it can be dealt with appropriately and fairly.  The reporter made assumptions which is a typical workplace reaction when we think a problem exists.  Many times we take a knee-jerk approach before we have anything to support it.  When groups do this, we ask them to go back and bring get credible information or some facts to the next meeting so we can determine if an actual problem exists before we try to resolve it.  Many times group members will come back and say there wasn’t a problem.  Having facts or providing valuable information makes it much easier to solve problems rather than relying on assumptions or hearsay.

Another workplace issue that came up in the reporter’s story is the issue of workplace safety and it’s not just about the safety of the municipality workers. One of the municipal workers politely asked the reporter to step out of the work zone.  The reporter did not and was at risk of injury because he was  in  close proximity to tree cutting equipment and the falling limbs from the trees the workers were trimming.  When it came to safety issues for the municipality workers, the reporter persisted to walk around them causing difficulty for the workers to perform their jobs which the reporter constantly complained about. In one video clip, a worker was carrying rolled up road signs that looked awkward to carry.  The reporter could have very easily been hit by the employee or, because the worker had to move around the reporter, he could have been pushed into equipment and injured or the worker could have pushed another worker into equipment causing injury.

The reporter said he and the news crew used a hidden camera to watch municipal workers over parts of five days.  While this may not be exactly the same as employers using surveillance equipment at the workplace, but it is similar because it still creates concerns for employees as to their right to privacy and it’s a questionable practice. It’s one thing for workplaces to monitor for safe working conditions but it’s another to  monitor productivity according to the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM.  They say employer surveillance may not be the best tool to increase productivity and  it’s important to be aware of legal responsibilities.  As far as journalism is concerned, there can be some legal complications just like in the workplace, but it also is a matter of ethics when journalists record people without their consent.  With both the employer surveillance and the hidden camera by a news team it becomes more of why it’s necessary to monitor workers.

The focus of limited information and facts in the reporter’s episode helped to raise suspicion and doubt for viewers.   Similar reaction happens in the workplace when information is not shared.   This can lead to other problems such as morale and productivity issues.  Division and discourse can also occur as well as rumors taking over which can be very difficult to contend with as they lead to mistrust, anger and frustration. In some situations, those that actually have, or even pretend to have factual information, may also play a power game by holding it over the heads of those who don’t have information.  It makes it very difficult to solve problems based on mutual concerns so  traditional problem solving becomes the only recourse  which causes position taking and  one side holding power over the other. Problems are rarely resolved  as band-aids are applied with the problem returning later.

This entire episode was just a feeble effort on the part of the television station to try and uncover workplace problems. Maybe they were trying to improve ratings or there was political motivation, but again, the lack of facts didn’t determine problems had actually occurred.  The reporter tried to show several times a problem existed but there was very little, if any, in that four-minute clip to substantiate his claims.  In one example  the reporter said the work crew was a half-hour late getting to the job site. Were they late?  Maybe in that half-hour they were loading their equipment or maybe they were getting instructions for the day.  We don’t know because the only thing we were told was they were late getting to the jobsite.  There was nothing else in the video to prove the reporter’s claim.  In another statement, the reporter said they knew the workers weren’t performing their job because they watched them for parts of five days.  What does part mean? Does that mean for 1 hour, 1 minute?  We don’t know because the reporter wasn’t specific.

At the end of the video, management responded appropriately.  The manager was going to look into it because, if he saw the same video, there wasn’t enough information to truly determine if a problem occurred.  Once he investigates, and a problem occurred, he then has opportunity to resolve it but until then there is nothing to go by.

I’m all for investigations if they’re warranted to uncover wrongdoing, but any investigation, either done by a journalist or someone in the workplace, needs to be completed appropriately.  Factual information should be collected from various sources but no one should be publicly humiliated like it was done in this video.  Not all workers are bad and they shouldn’t be labeled as such unless an investigation proves otherwise either by a journalist or by someone in the workplace.

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About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at http://calmc.org
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