Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about bullying and discrimination: I have been called names, told I am a slut, that I sleep with men on the first date, told I wear stripper shoes, etc. I am referred to as the “white girl.”

I am the subject of workplace bullying, harassment, and reverse discrimination. I have been called names, told I am a slut, that I sleep with men on the first date, told I wear stripper shoes, etc. I have recently relocated from the east, and I am told that the state that I come from is nothing but white trashy people with no teeth. I received an email with a link to which involved a humiliating incident which happened in my home state. The perpetrator wrote “Oh my God….only in (name of my state).” I am angry and unable to sleep and eat, and my stress level has reached its peak. Please advise me. I have filed a complaint through my manager, and HR. I do not think anything is going to be done. I am also made fun of for the way I speak. I am referred to as the “white girl.” This has got to end. I see someone who wrote to you and signed it, “Worried”, thinks she didn’t do anything, and ironically my abuser doesn’t think she is at fault either, in fact, she tried to blame me!

Signed, Had All I Can Take

Dear Had All I Can Take:

That sounds like a miserable working situation for you! But, it also makes me wonder what it must be like for many others who are excluded or who aren’t part of the reigning clique. The size of the business and type of business will have a lot to do with how this is handled and what your options are. You mentioned HR, so it seems the business is large enough to have that function. That is better than if you were working for a small company where there was little concern about liability or HR issues.

I don’t know what you have done thus far, but let me give you general advice that might be helpful.

1. You may want to consult an attorney about this matter. Most attorneys will provide a one-time free consultation to let you know if you have a civil case that might result in a remedy or at least a monetary settlement that might make it easier to move to another job.

2. Once you have established that your manager and HR are not going to help you, consider talking to state of federal offices of Equal Employment Opportunity. They might be interested in the examining the legal aspects of the situation.However, they usually will want to ensure that the management of a company has had an opportunity to improve things, before they consider a case in detail.

3. Keep a log of what has happened, going back to the beginning if you haven’t kept such a log until now. At least have a list of major events, who was involved and who witnessed it. Note if management was aware of the situation. Note what your responses were. Use quotes as much as possible.Catch the log up to date and, if you haven’t done so until now, be very specific about what happens at each event. Use quotes whenever possible rather than making a general statement. For example, instead of saying, “Lisa told me I was hated by everyone and wasn’t wanted there.” Write, “Lisa said: “Jan, you may not realize it, but you’re hated by everyone. I hate you, everyone hates you. You aren’t wanted here.” As she said this she put her hands on my desk and leaned over toward me in an intimidating way, with a frown. Her voice got louder and louder as she made that statement.”Then, write what you did and said, as exactly as possible. Rather than writing, “I told her I didn’t care”, write, “I stood up and crossed my arms and said, “You know what, Lisa? I don’t care about you and everyone else hates me because I don’t care about your opinions anymore.”

Then, do the same thing as you describe her next response. Your goal is to create a clear scenario that a reader (no matter who might read it now or in the future) can “see” and “hear” the conversation.Often complainants about these situations can provide a lot of statements but none of them are direct quotes. That hurts many times, because it can seem to be taking words out of context or saying what you think someone meant. Direct quotes, combined with accurate descriptions of tone of voice, volume, facial expressions and similar descriptors, are tremendously helpful. Also, it is much more difficult for a manager to ignore that kind of complaint, because it clearly is not just “venting” by the employee.

4. Be aware of all that you say and do in relation to the situation. Nothing can justify the way you have been treated, as you describe it. But, there is an element always of others thinking that someone contributed to the conflict rather than tried to make things better.Your best approach is to focus on your own good work and make it a tactic in your strategy to continue working no matter what. You may want to find a few phrases that you can say repeatedly, in the face of rudeness.

For example, one person, while waiting for a harassment investigation to be completed, responded to any remarks made by a coworker who made both gender and ethnic remarks, by saying, “Please don’t keep talking to me that way. It’s not nice.” Or, “That’s not nice, stop it.” She said “It’s not nice” was her way to say, “Screw you.” But she just substituted that phrase! The employee was disciplined and never talked to the complainant after that, which suited her just fine.If no action had been taken, she could still at least have known that she wasn’t getting in his face and showing herself to be out of control, or acting as vile as the guy was acting.

You may have already established a back and forth habit with remarks or insults, maybe not. But it’s not too late to calm that down and make the assumption that others are keeping track of everything you say and do, just as you are keeping track of them. (Although, again let me say I think you must be in a very unhappy place!)

5. Don’t make an enemy of the manager over this, if you can avoid it. I worked with a young woman not long ago whose emails to her manager about a problem were so angry that it turned him against her. She didn’t appreciate any efforts on his part, felt he wasn’t trying to help her, and generally wrote sarcastic messages that portrayed her as being unpleasant.I reminded her that she still had a responsibility to be courteous to her manager. She surprised me by writing him a note thanking him for his efforts and saying that she was sorry she had let her emotions get the best of her. She used that as a way to say that the other employees had created so much stress of her, she was having trouble being her usual courtesy self. He was impressed and used some of her phrases in his letter to his own boss in which he asked for help in stopping the problem.

I mention all of that to say that is important to work with others, since you can’t bring about a change yourself. As a result, the people who CAN bring about a change need to be on your side.6. Put all of your remarks to your manager or HR or others in writing. If you talk to him or her, follow up with something in writing. You can say, “I’m giving you this memo in writing, so there will be a record of our conversation.” Or, “Thank you for talking with me about the recent remark Lisa made in the break room. I know it’s important for you to have those statements in writing, so this is a duplication of what happened, for your records.” (Then you would recount the break room conversation.) You would also put in that email any understanding or agreement you and your manager had after the conversation. For example, “After I told you about the break room remarks you said you would immediately talk to Lisa and tell her to stop such remarks. I’ll let you know if she does something similar again, so you’ll know if she complied with your instructions about it.”

7. When you write or talk about this matter, be sure to use the words and phrases that make your situation clear and also that you let your manager and HR know that you aren’t just talking about rudeness, you are referring to the illegal actions of sexual harassment and the organizational rules against that and such issues as bullying.You also want to make sure you are showing the link between that and work. Some good phrases: “Her remarks weren’t just rude, I think they were illegal under sexual harassment laws and I want such actions to stop.””I felt depressed and very stressful after she talked to me that way. I don’t think this company wants its employees to be treated by other employees in a way that harms them mentally, physically or emotionally, but that is what Lisa is doing to me.””My focus on work is continually distracted by this unpleasant work environment. I want to do a good job, but I’m worried that the stress and depression I’m feeling will have an effect on my work.””I looked around the room and could see that others looked uncomfortable at her remarks and a few seemed very embarrassed. So, I know this is having an impact on other people. I don’t think that is the way this company wants the work environment to be.”

The other advantage to using phrases such as that is that they sound reasonable and logical if your case is reviewed by attorneys or juries, or if someone higher than your manager gets involved.When you write about an event, say what you want done. “I want Lisa to stop sending me emails that are not related to business.” “I want Lisa to stop sending emails about me to anyone, if it doesn’t directly relate to business.” “I never again want Lisa to make a remark to me about my clothes or anything else personal and not related directly to work.”

8. If there is anyone there who has supported you, be a friend to them and to those who may also feel left out or intimidated. You can have a leadership role in helping others. By doing so you may find that not everyone supports the nasty Junior High level behavior that is going on. That would be the ideal thing…for others to help shut it down at the same time the organization takes action.Be as credible and valuable as you can be to the organization. Sometimes managers don’t get too involved about an employee’s feelings, but they don’t want to lose a good employee. Be so good it shows.

9. After I’ve written all of the above, I should add that the reality may be that you would like to leave that company! That may end up being your choice. But, if you have anyone higher than your manager, make sure you go to the highest level after the next level fails to stop the actions. Wait and give them a chance, but then write a memo with all your information, higher in the chain.I’m hoping your manager and HR will take action. If you’ve waited for more than 10 days without a response from them, write and ask what has happened so far. You should be able to tell if the people involved have been told to stop and they comply with that order. If none of that works and you don’t want to go further legally or civilly, you may need to leave for your own well-being. That wouldn’t seem fair, but it might be the only way for you to have a peaceful life and a pleasant work situation.I hope this has given you some thoughts about how to approach the situation or how to add to what you’re already doing.

When each work shift is over, try your best to go home and enjoy your life there. If you need the work and don’t have another job to go to, find a way to neutralize the effect of the terrible behavior of a few.I believe though, that if you have documented information and keep at it, things will improve. Whether or not they improve enough to make work there very enjoyable, is another matter. Best wishes to you. If you a have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe