About five years ago, I got a challenging management position at a large international company. Since then, I’ve completely reorganized my department, redefined all procedures, built a European team, professionalized recruitment, taken care of employer branding, introduced the company as a great place to work and much more. Year after year, I received good reviews and salary increases.
Recently, however, one month after the annual appraisal round, I had a disconcerting meeting with my immediate supervisor. In a short conversation of less than twenty minutes, he told me that there were serious complaints about my performance and leadership. Unfortunately, despite multiple requests, he refused to provide details. I did receive in writing that I was excused from work for the time being.
I was stunned. After all, it does concern the financial and professional basis of my life. Getting a message like this that’s completely different from the assessments I’ve received from him over the years while interacting with him on an almost daily basis, I feel that my boss is obligated to be more forthcoming. I can’t possibly defend myself against general accusations.
Even more shocking was what happened 15 minutes after the conversation. As I walked past a meeting room on my way out, I heard my boss’ voice blaring from a loudspeaker. He was summarizing the content of our talk, easily audible to me and others standing in the hallway. In the conference room were two members of my team – apparently the complainers.
I find it unpalatable that confidential information is handled like this. It certainly doesn’t help in finding a solution. What’s more, this ‘stakeholder update’ has done irreparable damage to my reputation.
Fact-finding should also never be done on the sly without a hearing. It should be done objectively and without bias. It’s not unlikely that these two colleagues are biased because of incidents in the recent past. One of them asked for an (additional) salary increase only two weeks ago but didn’t get it.
As I take complaints about my leadership and performance very seriously, I demand a face-to-face with my boss of at least 90 minutes in the coming week. In this meeting, it should become clear which complaints are concrete and what policy was subsequently followed in addressing the problem. I also want to know why possible shortcomings weren’t noticed before but only now, shortly after the announcement of the new organizational structure.
The headhunter answers:
A nasty affair indeed. The allegations have to be very serious to warrant a suspension. This is the case if there’s a disturbed working relationship, if the employee has misbehaved or if there’s an investigation into possible just cause for punitive action or dismissal. Suspension is a drastic measure and often leads to a discharge. When a good cause isn’t found, the employer has committed a misstep, which can have serious consequences.
Equally serious is the fact that the procedure for reaching the decision is deeply flawed. At the recent annual appraisal round, you were lauded and you received a substantial salary increase. Soon after, you were put in a Kafkaesque situation: no concrete allegations, no adversarial hearings. Your employer is thoroughly disrupting the employment relationship.
What are your options? You can go to court to overturn the suspension. Before you do that, you could consider mediation, but I doubt that much will come out of that. Presumably, the employer will seek to rescind your contract in court or he’ll try to settle the case, on advice of counsel.