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How to Resolve Employee Conflicts | Kathy Gurchiek

​After discovering a co-worker washing out his colostomy bag in the restroom at work, an employee was so disgusted he complained to his boss about it. The manager, similarly disturbed by the behavior, went to HR seeking to fire the co-worker for safety and hygiene violations. But that would have been inappropriate because there were no job-related performance issues at play, recalls Margaret Driscoll, a senior regional HR director at the New England-area company at the time.

So, instead of preparing termination paperwork, Driscoll sat down with the employee to talk. During the conversation, she learned the reason for his behavior: He was washing and reusing his colostomy bag to save money to pay for his wife’s expensive medical treatments.

Driscoll addressed the situation by arranging for benefits to assist with the medical care for the employee’s wife. 

“He needed help, and we got him help,” Driscoll says. “We were able to use our current medical plan, plus other resources from the American Cancer Society, to best assist him and his family during those hard times.”

While employee conflicts are inevitable, this incident underscores the importance of talking to employees before irritations and minor disagreements escalate into full-scale warfare. 

“You try to understand what the issue is,” says Driscoll, now chief people and culture officer at Blackbaud, a cloud computing provider based in Charleston, S.C. “You have to learn empathy and care.”


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