File this in your “Sometimes, People are Really Awful” folder.
The story is a very simple one.
An associate working at a Cleveland law firm – we’ll call her Sue to protect the innocent – returned from maternity leave.
Should have been a relatively happy time, yes? Hugs all around, maybe even some donuts, but at least a kind word and a thoughtful check in with Sue on how parenthood was going, right?
Not this story.
A few days after her return, Sue informed the firm’s brass that she would be resigning to work elsewhere.
In response, she got a swift kick in the behind from a more senior member of the firm, Jon, who texted her the following:
What you did – collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your ass, except to find time to interview for another job – says everything one needs to know about your character. Karma’s a bitch. Rest assured, regarding anyone who inquires, they will hear the truth from me about what a soul-less and morally bankrupt person you are.
What in the holy hell?
My reaction was similar to Kelley Barnett, who shared Sue’s painful story on LinkedIn earlier this week. Kelley stated in part:
There is no universe in which this kind of behavior (in writing or not) should be acceptable. . . Firm culture is defined by (among other things) what is tolerated, not the words and pictures on firm websites and marketing materials. It’s defined by the boots-on-the-ground reality taking place in firm halls, offices and conference rooms.
As Kelley notes, employers – and those who run them – “should not be sovereign entities where deplorable behavior like this goes unchallenged.”
As the story goes, Jon’s firm then doubled down on his text message, trivializing Jon’s vitriol in a statement a short time later, stating, “That single text was sent in the heat of the moment by an employee upset by the belief that the former colleague while on paid leave sought employment with another law firm . . .”
I’m not going to tell you that training managers is going to fix what happened here. It won’t. What happened here is a much larger issue that can’t be “trained” away. This kind of incivility – where an employee seemingly has an unchecked pathway to dehumanize another – has no place in the workplace or anywhere else.
Using Kelley’s words, use this sad story to take a look at yourself. Are you working to promote civility in the workplace? And your managers: Do they perpetuate these problems or attempt to dismantle them?
How you treat an employee upon their return from FMLA leave tells us a lot about who you are.
Don’t be Jon.