A woman I work with has been harassing me and crossed the line last week when she physically squeezed my hand as hard as she could (I had suggested we shake hands and get over an argument). She had been harassing me all day (this was witnessed all day long), and I wrote a letter of complaint for her file. She was placed on administrative leave for a day until my boss returned. We had a meeting and I was questioned about how I could have acted differently to avoid confrontation. She wrote her side. She was called by the head of the company. She has had trouble in the past with other employees (documented) and I believe they would love to get rid of her. Does this sound like they are trying to use her actions toward me to do this? I believe her past involves insubordination to her boss and harassment of another employee. I know there is a letter in her file.
The Last Straw
Dear The Last Straw:
Anytime someone has a been involved in a whole list of problematic behaviors, an organization puts all of them together to see if the sum total merits dismissal or some lesser response. That is likely happening in this case. It’s not possible to know if your specific situation is the final one, but certainly it would put another nail in the coffin, to use a harsh term!Be careful about your role in all of this. You may see yourself as the victim of a bad co-worker, but others may be seeing you as a contributor to the problem, at least in some way. That is why they asked you how you could have avoided the confrontation. Almost all workplace confrontations can be stopped much sooner than they are, even if they can’t be completely avoided.Assuming that by harassment you mean she was being argumentative and making negative remarks to you, the next time such a thing occurs with any employee, immediately tell the co-worker to stop because it’s having a negative affect on your work and it’s making you feel badly. If the behavior continues just once more, go to a supervisor, manager or HR and ask for intervention immediately. Don’t wait to write a letter later in the day. That way the supervisor can immediately talk to you, the other person and witnesses, without a time lag. Perhaps you did that. Even if your boss isn’t around, find someone else. And, make sure you have told the person who is bothering you, what she is doing that is bothering you–then ask her to stop it.If you were arguing too, or talking back or making your own negative remarks, or saying nothing at all to indicate that you wanted her to stop, then you may be viewed as contributing to the communication problems–even though you might think you may not be as guilty as she is.I’m not implying that you have done anything wrong or that she was right, just urging you to be aware of your role always, in case she is not fired, but instead is back at work next to you. Avoid the problems by either avoiding her, not responding to her remarks, telling her to stop, immediately asking for a supervisor or manager to come to your location to assist you, or immediately going to a supervisor.When possible avoid doing the things that might start an argument. Be civil and courteous, but reduce conversation to the basics if that’s what it takes. And don’t suggest shaking hands or anything else that may seem to you to be conciliatory, but may seem to others to just be a way to show her in the wrong and you in the right. Don’t talk about her to other employees and don’t listen to gossip about her. Focus on your own work and let managers and supervisors figure out how they want to handle her. Best wishes for a better workplace in the future.
Tina Lewis Rowe