Shocked By Co-worker Alienation!

Question:

Please help in any way possible, this is a highly complicated issue that is also very stupid. I am an American male, working for an American contract company, outsourced to an American Investment Bank located in Japan. I made friends with a Japanese female coworker; our friendship was 100% non-romantic. We got into an argument at work, and she asked me to stop bothering her at work. I apologized, and left her alone. She complained to her boss. Later that night she sent me a personal email (home email to home email), indicating that she was sorry for complaining to her boss, that she wanted to remain friends, and that there was some misunderstandings between us. I replied (home email to home email) and told her that I would also like to remain friends and clear up any misunderstandings.

The next day her boss complained to my boss. I explained to my boss what happened, and everything seemed to be fine. I left her alone at work. I received another email from her over the following weekend (home email home email) explaining her position and where she believed our misunderstandings were. I replied with a similar email (there was no animosity on either end).

The next week when I returned to work, there was another complaint from her supervisor. Basically I was continuing to contact her at home, even after I was asked to leave her alone. The first complaint was easy to explain and caused no serious problems for my position, company, or my office relationships. It took three days to sort out as she refused to accept that I would leave her alone (though I was never allowed an audience supervised or unsupervised with her).

The few people in my office, who were friendly to me, are now openly hostile, I was expecting a wage increase (per the terms of my contract) and that was denied. My credibility in my company has decreased, and to tell you the truth it’s really hard to come to work. I also believe that she will not be satisfied until I am fired, though at this point I may be paranoid. Is there anything that you can recommend I do? Or anyplace I can go to find out more about my rights? Thanks.

Signed,

With A Coworker Enemy


Answer:

Dear With A Coworker Enemy:

This is an unfortunate situation and I hope you are able to regain your standing in the organization. I think your overall approach needs to be one of shock and dismay, but with determination to keep working well. Unless you did something wrong, you can honestly be perplexed and frustrated that the other employee has created this situation. That is the message you want to send to others through your actions.

1. I’m sure you realize how ill advised it was for you to respond to an email from the employee who had complained about you. You should not have done that. You certainly should not have done so a second time. Harassment by employees can be from home emails or work emails, so that does not help you at all. Think of how that looks. Do not ever again respond to an email or phone call from her that is not at work and clearly business. And report it immediately if she does so. From an outsider’s perspective, no matter what you wrote to her, you violated a direct order to leave her alone. Frankly that weakens anything else you might say or do about it. I will accept your word that you meant nothing by it, but it looks so badly that it is likely what as caused people at work to feel negatively about you.

2. Is it possible to do damage control? At this point you have little to lose by trying. According to the nature of your company, either work through your supervisor and ask to have your request sent up the chain of command, or go directly to HR. Consider this approach:

Write, don’t just talk (so you’ll have documentation) and start by saying that you want a full investigation of what has happened so the complete truth can be known. It may have been awhile since this happened, but since you are still feeling the repercussions, you have a right to ask for an investigation. If an investigation took place and even after looking at the evidence you were found to be in the wrong, perhaps there is something you are not accepting about your role in this. That may not be the case, but you must admit it seems likely.

If they have not fully investigated, tell them that this has already hurt your work and could negatively impact your future so you think it is crucial from the viewpoint of both you and the other employee that the organization clarify what has happened. This presents you as the aggrieved employee rather than a suspect.

If what you say is exactly the case, the employee created a situation to purposely get you in trouble, that should be acted upon by her bosses, no matter what they think about what you did. Even if there has been a time lag, it is not too late if you still have the evidence.

Attach a list of the investigative material you can provide them, as a way to emphasize your insistence about the matter.

*A time-line of what has occurred, including the exact nature of relationship prior to the recent situation and any proof you have that there was a falling out at work. Perhaps you have emails or someone who witnessed harsh words. *A list of witnesses who can verify your relationship with the employee. These may be employees who are angry with you now, but who could verify that you never showed inappropriate behavior before and have not made inappropriate statements about the employee. *The emails she sent you and your replies, to show the lack of harassment on your part. Even if you have already given them to someone, provide another copy. *Anything else that might point out a credibility problem with her and honesty on your part. *A statement saying that you are completely innocent of wrongdoing and that your only mistake was responding to her emails. You’re working in another culture apparently, but if you have American managers and supervisors you might want to use the analogy that restraining orders in criminal courts are considered invalidated if the person getting them contacts the person he or she said she was afraid of. In this case, if you were really bothering her, she would not have contacted you. You can say that because it was on home email you did not think of it as violating any rules.

3. As far as pay raise and so forth–what is the nature of your contract about that? Consider sending a letter through your supervisor asking for the reason you were denied the raise. Keep that separate from the other situation and simply ask for the reason, unless you have been told it was strictly over this.

If you were told it was over this, see what is in your personnel folder about it. Were you disciplined or is there some other official documentation that would justify the denial of the raise? It may be that your employment contract (or the information in your manual about raises) requires something more than what has occurred, to justify denying a raise.

4. You express a concern about her trying to have you fired. If your work is good and this is the only negative thing, it would seem unlikely that would happen. Based on what you have said, you have not threatened her, done anything physical or sexually harassed her. So, the allegations appear to only involve conflict with a co-worker. That is rarely a firing offense unless it goes much past that.

Your supervisor and/or manager are the people who can support you at this point. If they know you have been an effective employee, they may realize this is not like you. If they have been present when you have interacted with the other employee, you may use that to remind them that they have never seen anything inappropriate from you, and that surely they would have said something if they had been concerned.

5. Are there any employee counseling resources in your organization? Use them! That will not only be a benefit to you, but will show your concern about this matter. I’m not suggesting it as a manipulative measure. I think you could likely use someone who could help you deal with the stress and discomfort this is causing.

I hope you are able to have your views heard. Hopefully you can avoid this person at work. Perhaps you can ask to have some aspects of your work changed to allow that even more. Do not ever be in a room alone with her if you can avoid it. The moment it appears you might have a conflict with her, bring it to the attention of your supervisor so you cannot be accused again.

Continue to be as positive as possible and show by your example that you are dependable and appropriate in your actions. Unless there is much more to it than what you wrote, this is not such a very serious thing compared to many others. Time and your continuing effective behavior will hopefully make a difference. Best wishes as you work through this. Do not obsess over what cannot be changed, but put your energy into a reasonable effort to be a responsible member of your workplace. Think WEGO.

Tina Lewis Rowe