Workplace Bullying And Harassment: When Tattle-Taling Is Required By Law

“No one likes a tattle-tale.”

Does that bring back memories of being a little kid on the playground? Most likely, they aren’t pleasant memories. They aren’t ones where you proudly puffed up your chest and retorted with: “But it had to be done.” And everyone looked at you with admiration and understanding and continued playing.

Well, this notion comes up a lot in the workplace, and unfortunately, not much has changed from our playground days…

When I look back at the wide array of organizations I’ve been delivering Respectful Workplace (bullying and harassment prevention), Workplace Violence Prevention training to lately (Des Moines, Iowa; Prince George, BC; Smithers, BC; Port Hardy, BC; to name just a few), I have found myself sharing one story to workshop participants in order for them to feel less anxious about a particular aspect of the workshop conversation.
That concerning aspect has to do with participants feeling like they might be labelled a ‘tattle-tale’ or a ‘rat’ for speaking up about someone else’s negative behaviour…even if it’s something far less damaging that what might be labelled bullying and harassing.
This comes up in our Respectful Workplace workshops when discussing the legislation that exists in British Columbia (and many other regions) stating that employees should report bullying or harassing behaviour when they either experience it or observe it occurring within their workplace.
Their concern was that if the behaviour was ‘not obviously outrageous and egregious,’ then they might be potentially damaging their relationship within the workplace by bringing someone else’s attention to it (their supervisor or Human Resources)— especially when the behaviour was not specifically targeted at them.

And from our playground days, we know that no one likes to be labelled as a ‘tattle-tale’ or a ‘rat.’

So this is the point in the workshop when I share a story from my time in policing:
When I served with the New Westminster Police Department, I was the Professional Standards Officer for almost 6 years. This meant that my role was to review and possibly investigate allegations of misconduct by police officers. It was an important role that ran in conjunction with the oversight body for police conduct within municipal police departments at the time—the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner.
Although most of the situations involved officers within the New Westminster department, those investigations sometimes involved other police jurisdictions when it was deemed appropriate to have an outside investigative body review an allegation.
This is not a new concept, and every professional body that wants to be known for its professionalism has a similar position.
Well at first, I have to tell you that I struggled with the notion that I was sometimes investigating my own colleagues—a.k.a, being a rat or a tattle-tale.
But then at a conference I attended, I sat next to an officer from another province who, in a workshop breaktime, shared a perspective with me that changed the entire way I looked at my role.
“Phil, it’s not your fault that you are investigating these officers,” he said to me, deadly serious. “It’s the officer’s fault.”
I asked him to explain what he meant.
He went on, “In most cases, it is the officer who has done something or said something, which has triggered the need for there to be an examination of his or her conduct. You are required (under the legislation of the day) to conduct a review of their behaviour. You have no choice. It’s not your fault.”
Ever since that day, I slept a whole lot better, no longer troubled over my role.
And ever since that day, I have shared that perspective, especially within our Respectful Workplace training workshops, where employees feel anxious about telling someone else about another person’s behaviour.
But they have no choice.
It’s not their fault.
It is the other person (the employee who did something or said something inappropriate or disrespectful or harassing or intimidating) who has put that other employee in a position where they are required (under the legislation of today) to inform someone about what they saw or heard.
If we don’t do this, but instead, ‘walk by that standard’ (a phrase made famous in this video by Chief of Australian Army Lieutenant General David Morrison’s message about unacceptable behaviour), then we are actually condoning the behaviour by our lack of action and response.

Every one of us is responsible for the reputation of our organization and the culture in which we work.

Therefore, we are required to say something.
We must.
It’s not your fault.
And your playground self will be very proud…

sonar leadership 2018


About the Author:

Phil Eastwood is a former London Bobby who brings a thirty-five year career in policing to his role as Senior Partner of Fiore Group Training, a recognized leader in training top North American organizations. Phil is lead author of workplace training courses in respectful workplace training, workplace violence employee training, and leadership training seminars.

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