Boss Called My Wife a Bad Name Behind her Back, But No Action Taken. What Now?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a rude and obscene comment
made by a manager, behind an employee’s back. 

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Question:
My wife took a problem to her manager, in front of other co-workers. They took care of the issue. After my wife walked out the door, her manager called her a “fucking bitch” in front of three other co-workers. She found out through other co-workers that it happened. It was brought to the attention of HR, but nothing has happened since then! There was to be a meeting, but it hasn’t happened yet, and it was reported three weeks ago.   What can we do about this?

Response:
Three weeks is a long time to wait for the organization where your wife works to take action about a complaint such as this.  HR usually can only start the process and then it is up to the manager’s manager to investigate and recommend action.  However, the director of HR is the best place to start, for your wife to find out what is happening with the complaint she made. It is also important for your wife to have, in fact, made a formal complaint about it. If she only talked to someone in HR but didn’t write a statement, it may be that HR views a meeting or other action to be optional, not required or expected. They may not think your wife made a formal complaint, merely an informal report.

There are no laws about the language that can be used in a workplace, unless the language is part of harassment based on gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Nor are employers required by law to investigate complaints of rudeness, obnoxiousness or even general obscenities, or to impose sanctions for it when it happens.  However, the best businesses do–and your wife’s HR department should be concerned enough about what happened, to investigate it anyway, whether they are obligated to or not.

No matter what the circumstances of the original confrontation between your wife and the manager, it was rude and inappropriate for your wife’s manager to use those words when describing your wife, especially to coworkers. So, some investigation should take place and if the allegation is shown to be true, the manager should be reprimanded to at least some degree. The action taken will vary according to the nature of the business and their rules and policies about such things.

HR may have called the manager’s manager and told that person that your wife reported what she heard from coworkers–and the higher manager informally investigated it and either decided there was nothing to it or informally reprimanded your wife’s manager and thought that was the end of it. I’m wondering if the employees who reported it to your wife have back-pedalled when they were asked about it by HR, or if what he said was not as blatant as they reported.

The bottom line: The main thing your wife can do at this point is to send an email to HR, (so she has it and their response, in writing) asking what action is going to be taken and when can she expect some sort of resolution to this unpleasant situation. Apparently she is still working and still reporting to that manager, so it must be very uncomfortable for everyone involved.

In the meantime, she should make sure she stays focused on her work and doesn’t get caught up in talk with other employees about what happened. The same people who told her what her manager said are also likely to tell her manager everything she says!

If your wife intends to keep working in the same business and if she must work with the same manager, perhaps she can, through her actions, show him he was wrong–not only in his remarks but in his assessment of her as a person. We can never have too many allies and one enemy is one too many, so it will to be her benefit to find a way to show her manager that he was wrong about her.  Maybe over time there can be a truce between her and her manager. It may even be that at some point she can talk to her manager and explain how hurtful and angering his remarks were. If she can do that, it might lead the manager to apologize for the poor judgment he showed in his comments.  As unlikely as that sounds right now, it could happen–but it will require that your wife and her manager are communicating enough to allow the door to be open to that conversation.

I can imagine that this has taken up a lot of your time and energy. I hope it will be resolved soon. Best wishes to both of you!

Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors