A couple of weeks ago, I quoted Robin Schooling about real HR where she said, Real World HR is "someone is smearing feces on the walls of the men's restroom, and we're unsure how to go about investigating this..."
My readers followed up with stories of their own about handling the day to day craziness that human resources departments have to work with. And, as expected, this question showed up in my inbox.
Some of my female employees have complained to me that the ladies' bathroom in the plant is unsanitary because they sometimes find (and have shown me pictures of excrement) on toilet seats. There are other problems, as well. One time, someone asked me into the bathroom to show me a used sanitary napkin that had been pressed onto a stall wall!!
I put out a memo to all female employees saying this is unacceptable. We have the bathrooms cleaned every night, but it's up to them to keep it clean throughout the day.
Things were OK for a while, but we had another incident yesterday. Honestly, this is the sort of stuff that makes me want to re-think my career choice!!
Do you have any suggestions about what to do in this situation? ANY ideas would be much appreciated. We don't have the time or resources to appoint a bathroom police woman to check the bathroom after each person uses it. This is totally frustrating.
This is, sadly, a common problem, so let's tackle it together.
First, when women's bathrooms have a "sprinkling" problem (you ladies know what I'm talking about) first check and make sure it's not a water pressure problem. Sometimes a forceful flush can make it look like you have inconsiderate hoverers.
That's not the case here. This appears to be a deliberate attempt to bother and annoy other employees. The perpetrator (assuming there is only one) should probably be fired.
But, how to find out? It's creepy and weird to have someone assigned to monitor bathroom behavior. It's also illegal to shut bathrooms (OSHA--the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) doesn't like that solution. Neither do your employees.
Sometimes, creepy and weird is the way to go.
Aim a camera at the outside of the door (not inside!), let everyone know that there is a camera and that it's being monitored. When the next person reports the problem, you have, at least, a limited list of suspects. Do not use this information to punish people for taking extra bathroom breaks or spending too long in the ladies room. Let your managers continue to handle that based on their work performance.
Talk to your disgruntled employees.
The person doing this is, almost certainly, unhappy at work. Do you know who is unhappy? Your managers should. Ask them to work with you on this. The goal here isn't to say, "Are you the one sticking used sanitary pads on the wall?" but "you seem unhappy, what can we do?"
It's okay to encourage someone who is miserable to quit. This is different than a forced resignation (which I do not encourage or condone). It's simply saying, "You're unhappy here, so let's find something better for you." You may find out that with a little bit of the right kind of turnover, your bathroom problems fix themselves.
Drink a lot of water.
This will put you (the letter writer is female) in the bathroom often. It lets you keep an eye on things and lets everyone know that you are monitoring the situation. Plus, you could probably use more water in your life.
Listen to your employees.
While you don't need to go out and ask people to tattle on their coworkers, chances are it won't take long before someone comes to you. Just like with any complaint, you don't take their word as gospel truth. This person may be trying to get an enemy in trouble. Investigate! And follow up.
Have the conversation.
When you find the culprit, a straight forward conversation with a witness, follows. "Jane, you have been smearing feces on the toilet seats. This is unacceptable behavior. You're fired." This is perfectly fine.
If the behavior doesn't reach that extreme, you can give them a formal warning and work with the employee to solve her concerns. "Jane, you have been smearing feces on the toilet seats. This is unacceptable behavior. This is an official warning and it will go in your employee file. Now, why are you doing this and what can we do to get it to stop?"
This is the same regardless of whether the person is a VP or an intern. No one gets a pass on this.
Bathroom problems are never fun, but they can be solved.