Accused & Suspended For Bullying

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about suspension for bullying:

I have recently been suspended on a grievance made against me for bullying. I am a warehouse supervisor and I have a colored person working on my shift. We have been good mates, and he has even been to my house on a few occasions. In this type of warehouse environment, a lot of banter is thrown about.

Recently he took offense to a drawing I made of his partner (but at the time he was laughing with me whilst I did it). Looking back it was a stupid thing to do but seemed no different from the day-to-day atmosphere of the workplace. I then found out that he later came back to work to obtain the picture from the bin and make a formal complaint about me–for which I am now suspended. I have received racist and offensive comments from him before ‘white boy’ and ‘slim shady’ and have thought nothing of it. I am so down from this. Do I make a formal complaint about racism towards myself? I have tried to apologize many times, but he seems to simply have an agenda to get me out of the company. As the HR department has this picture as evidence, does this mean I don’t have a leg to stand on? I am not a bully and he had said things just as bad to me. I don’t know what to do.

Signed, Suspended

Dear Suspended:

How long ago was the suspension? Who suspended you–your boss or Human Resources? Were you told how long the suspension is to last and were you given the reason for it? Was that in writing or oral and were you questioned about the incident and/or other acts that pertain for suspending you? Apparently the matter is under further investigation or management is undecided whether to reinstate or fire you. Were you ever informed or trained regarding racially demeaning communication and bullying? What is your standing with those you supervise and other supervisor? If it is good someone later might speak in your behalf. But it probably is not wise to gossip with other employees at this time.What might you do?

First you need to review your behavior? Have there been other occasions in which you made racial or bullying kinds of remarks? How long have you been employed and do you have you had good performance reviews? Apparently if you are a supervisor you must have been doing something right. This kind of self-appraisal should help prepare you to make a case for your self.

Second, prepare a short written statement in which you apologize and acknowledge the stupidity of such of such banter. In that statement, promise to cut out such talk in the future.

Third, you need to learn where you stand; as to the length of the suspension and what you might do to, if anything, to apologize. To learn this, you need to request a meeting with HR. At such a meeting you had best apologize and admit that the “banter” of which you were apart was playful, however, unwise as you now realize. If HR will not schedule such a meeting, say that you are sending a letter requesting that you be part of an investigation.

Should you submit a counter-grievance; that you have been the butt of racial banter? Probably not. However, if and when you are questioned about what happened, you can then describe the nature of racially loaded remarks made to you and that you took no offense because you perceived they were meant as playful teasing. These suggestions are not meant to be legal advice. Should you be fired you might request an appointment with an attorney to learn if she/he would represent you. However, I wouldn’t state to HR or anyone else that you are seeing an attorney. Do you have a leg to stand on?

If that racially/bullying-loaded sketch is the only incident and there have been no other complaints, you might get through this one, and will learn from it. Even if you are fired, don’t allow this incident to sour you. Guard against badmouthing your former employee when applying for another job. If the reason comes up, you will have to decide in advance if you will say. I think you can admit why and say that you have learned what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace.

My associate Workplace Doctor Tina Lewis Rowe, the wisest woman I know, once she reads my advice might add hers if she as anything different that might help you through this difficult time. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS is the kind of spirit we want where we work. In short that means giving respect and getting respect.

William Gorden