Moved When I Spoke Up About Unfair Treatment

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about unfavorable treatment:

I work for cleaning company. I have noticed certain things being handled that are shady when it comes to other employees: how they are paid amount of hours, overloaded work assignments, and unfairness to employees with seniority. Coworkers won’t address out of fear, but I have addressed my issues my rights and have been moved to other area with no explanation.

Signed—Moved to Speak Up

Dear Moved to Speak Up:

You imply moving you to a different work site was after you spoke up about what you saw as shady and unfair was meant to keep you quiet. Short of firing, that is one way management copes with a complaining employee.

What you see as shady and unfair action of your management might in fact be unfair. That is difficult to know unless you can have access to time sheets and pay records. But apparently you do see that some employees are given more favorable assignments than others, some who don’t have seniority over others. Your complaint was that you have not been favored and want it made right. Right?

If there is in fact unfairness, it will not be corrected when no one speaks up. The problem for you, now that you have been moved, is to find a way to right what you sense has been mistreatment. Probably you will never have access to coworkers’ records of hours and pay.

The odds of you achieving fair treatment with respect to assignments and seniority likely will hinge on whether you are seen as a valued employee. Associate workplace doctor Tina Lewis Rowe argues there are three components to having influence. In your situation that means if you can achieve fair treatment. I’m copying advice Tina has given to another individual about how she/he might get good treatment:

  1. Credibility (Effective at the work for which you are hired, personal behaviors and presentation that fit the culture of the workplace, ethical in the areas of priority for the organization.)
  2. Value (Needed by the team and by individuals to fulfill a role or do a task; contributing to the team or to individuals in some way; being liked, appreciated or admired and thus being considered a good person to have around.)
  3. Communication that is appropriate and effective. (Appropriate for the rank, position and listener and effectively enough to be clear, without distracting mannerisms or style.)

Tina also would suggest that you take care of your own business before you try to take care of coworkers’. Following these three components of influence, what might you do to make a case that you have been unfairly treated?

Credibility. You know the standards of cleaning—job description and levels of pay for differently skilled and experienced employees. When you make the argument that you have been unfairly treated, be specific about your assignments and pay compared to coworkers.
Value. Describe cleaning assignments you have done recently and across the years. Refer to any positive comments and evaluation of your work. Be specific about places and dates. Numbers impress.
Communication. Decide when and to whom you need to speak and/write. It helps to put your case in writing. Communication both orally face to face and in writing increases its importance. You said, “I have addressed my issues my rights.” Did you speak to your immediate supervisor informally or meet with him/her privately? Once or twice? Is it now time to ask the supervisor to go with you to your boss’ boss or to Human Resources?

In 5 Easy Ways To Deal With Jealousy At Work, Sheri Staak asserts to keep jealousy at bay employees should

Get over it. Stop comparing. Show support, not spite. Redirect the emotion. Show respect not disrespect.

Jealousy often results from unfair treatment. And unfair treatment will not be made fair unless and until individuals speak up. You voicing displeasure is essential to your and your coworkers’ situation. It’s natural to vent your frustration about what you feel is mistreatment, and it might be helpful to discuss it quietly with coworkers you trust. But probably it’s best not to gossip with coworker about what you think is unfair.

You don’t mention that your company has a union; therefore, hope for finding support for fair treatment likely hinges on your ability to clearly and firmly explain why you think you have been mistreated. The fact is that favoritism is common. Most workplaces reward employees they evaluate as more skilled, responsible and cooperative than others. Most employees do what they can to be evaluated positively; and consequently, they compete with one another for the favor of their superiors. I know of some situations in which some employees treat their bosses to lunch to buy/bribe their favor. It is only where and when, bosses are challenged—made aware that their action is perceived as unfair—that they correct favoritism.

It is normal to fear of firing if you complain about assignments and pay to some bosses. Of course you must weigh how to most effectively communicate your complaint. One of the better ways to do that is to request a time-out to talk with your boss. Talk about how important it is to do good work and how much you are committed to making your company known for its cleaning. Talk about teamwork. Talk about cutting wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted money. Talk about the positive things you have seen accomplished, how good it feels to do good work and please clients. Talk about what you have learned from your superiors and others and talk about your dreams. Perhaps talk about skills you have and need in light of you age and family needs. Good bosses will take an interest in such talk.

Do any of these thoughts make sense? Can you apply them to your situation? Please weigh them and adapt. Reject those that do not fit.  I will be interested in what steps you take next. Feel free to let us know what you do and what happens.  Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.—William Gorden

Follow Up:

Received, thank you. I have on several occasions asked to meet with management who over sees us to have one-on-one to also make him aware of why we keep having same problems over and over and that I have knowledge that can help stop this viscous cycle so there won’t be repeat of the problem. No response. We’ve come close on losing the contract I’m just trying to help so that we don’t lose it if we do we are out of a job. He is also aware that about year ago I informed him of the health issues I have working outside in cold weather, walking all day on cold concrete pushing a cart that tires my legs and he assured me I would no longer have to go back there. A month ago without warning he removed me from my area; had the supervisor take my keys and said I was to work back there from now on with no explanation.

REPLY: Thank you for details that better explain your frustration and discouragement. In this postscript 1. you stress that you have met with management several times to state your concern about management actions that put continuation of a contract of your unit and gotten no result. Also 2. you add that you had an understanding that you would not be assigned the kind of work that aggravates your health. But now you have been assigned to work that is bodily harmful. Is there a simple solution to these two matters? Apparently not.  

Getting a constructive correction to what is wrong, often requires persistence and carefully-firmly expressed anger. That kind of communication for Problem 1 probably entails a log of the times you told of problems and specifics of what happened. It would also be best logged and printed out. This would have the best chance of being heard if you informed your immediate superiors that you are requesting an investigation by those who own your contract agency. 2. Here too you need a written log of when and who promised not to place you on assignments that harms your health. Such follow up, also should go above your immediate management and would be buttressed by medical evidence. The case should be made that the move is a broken promise and that this change of assignment puts you are at risk of disability. I don’t know the terms of your employment, such as if it is government related. Nor am familiar with state and national Labor Department rules. Possibly your Human Resources or local attorneys can advise you regarding this assignment endangering your health.

I know these few additional remarks are no solution to either problems 1 or 2. But I hope they will enable you to do more than bite your tongue. Your GRIT is being and will be tested. Don’t give up on talk and written communication. If you can make time after a couple of weeks, please tell me what you have done to resolve both of these problems.  Dr. Gorden