Being Harassed With Dirty Tricks

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about dirty tricks:

I have worked at my current job for almost a year. Since I began there have been numerous occasions where I have been the target of someone’s obsession. Before coming to the job, I was told by someone who already works at this place to keep a low profile and not get involved with too many people because of this very issue. In the past, there was someone secretly sending me newspapers as their way of communicating with me. If they had something rude to say, but of course can’t say it directly to me, they would find a newspaper ad to say it for them and send it my way. I was able to overlook that because it was an indirect approach.

Now, someone has my locker combination. I was drinking a Mountain Dew and left it on my desk. I stepped away from my desk momentarily to take care of a personal matter and then went to my locker to retrieve my things because we were towards the end of our shift. When I opened my locker a yellow liquid was flowing out of my bag. I immediately thought I put something in there that caused it to spill, but after checking there was nothing to prove where the liquid had spilled from. I went back to my desk only to find a missing Mountain Dew…I then became upset because I realized that someone took my drink, went to my locker, and deliberately poured the contents into my bag with my personal belongings.

I did report this to my manager who simply told me that anywhere I go I am going to deal with harassment. I told him that is unacceptable and anytime my personal space is violated, this poses an issue and it should be addressed. He said he would look into it but of course without a name and suspect it is hard to investigate. Now, the person has went as far to let me know that they have my locker combination by not only opening my locker but left it wide open for me to find. I have a feeling I know who the person is now but don’t have proof and I don’t want to do the confrontation thing because they will only deny the accusations and I will look like the crazy obsessed person.

I just want to come to work and do my job and go home. I am not interested in getting to know my co workers because of what I have witnessed for myself and what has been done to me over the past year. I was under the impression that when you talk to someone about their negative behavior and how you would like it to stop, that only gives them motivation to continue. So, I have been ignoring the issues. But it seems to be getting worse now that it is crossing from a simple newspaper ad to invading my personal space.I thought about approaching the person with a friendly conversation because I know ignoring people is probably the reason why I am in this situation in the first place. Someone is trying to get my attention and want a reaction out of me.

Signed, Tired of It

Dear Tired of It:

I can imagine it would certainly be upsetting to think someone is trying to bother you in those ways. There may be nothing you can do to stop it, but consider some of the following thoughts:

1. Apparently when you talked to your supervisor you didn’t know who might be doing the dirty tricks. Now that you have an idea, perhaps you can talk to him again and tell him your suspicions and ask for his assistance.

2. If you have even one friend or acquaintance there, ask that person for his or her support in watching for indicators that someone is leaving items on your desk or taking items. Ask if he or she has any idea who might be doing it and why. They may have a perspective that would be helpful.

3. Stop isolating yourself. It’s one thing to not be highly sociable but avoiding people and staying apart makes an employee seem strange, odd and slightly frightening. On this site we regularly receive questions about how do deal with a problematic employee who isolates himself or herself and does not communicate comfortably with others.It could be; as you mentioned; that your behavior has attracted negative attention. That could also be what your supervisor’s thoughts. That certainly doesn’t justify anyone harassing you! But, it attracts the attention of people who are mean-spirited already.Working effectively in a team requires open and friendly communication, so look for opportunities to smile, say hello, ask pertinent questions and be part of normal conversations, even if only in small ways. Consider if your supervisor or anyone else has ever counseled you or even just hinted to you about your interactions. Have they made suggestions for change? If so, this may be the time to take those seriously and do something about it.If you haven’t been talked to about it, consider asking your supervisor for feedback about your work, your behavior and your relationships. Ask if he has advice on how you could improve any of that. That would let him know that, unlike the person causing you problems, you are trying to do positive things in the workplace.

4. As a safety precaution, don’t leave unopened food or drinks on your desk, unless you can keep an eye on them. Having your drink removed and poured out is certainly an unnerving thought. Someone who would do that might do other things. If you ever can prove that someone has tampered with your food or drink or has taken it from your desk, report that immediately.

5. If you work in a company that has an HR section and something happens again involving your personal items or your food and drink, report it to them in writing at the same time you tell your supervisor. Ask for a complete investigation for the safety and security of everyone in the office, but especially for your own safety. Having that kind of attention focused on it may be enough to stop the behavior. Or, if there is no HR section, ask your supervisor; in writing; for an investigation into the matter. He probably won’t want to do it; but it is the only way to send a message that this behavior is unacceptable.I don’t know if you took your supervisor to your locker and showed him the liquid that was poured out, but next time be sure to take him to the location.

Take a photo of anything that is obvious. Keep a record. For example, if you saved the newspapers, scan those or take photos. Take a photo of where the newspaper was placed on your desk and the exact time you found it. The key point is that without evidence it’s just your statement, but with evidence there is something to investigate. If your supervisor sees solid evidence but refuses to do anything about it, at least you’ll know that you won’t be getting any support there and that may make a difference in your decision about where you want to work.6. That brings us to the issue of talking to the person who you think may have done it. I think you’re correct to not confront them with an accusation unless you can prove it. If they didn’t do it they will be angry or fearful about it. If they did do it, they’ll deny it anyway. Consider just including that person in your efforts to be more approachable in a general sense. If there is a work conflict between you two, you may be able to defuse it by focusing on doing excellent work and doing your best to talk constructively about whatever is causing the problem. Usually, a good faith effort to change whatever is the source of the conflict, if that is possible, will at least gain a bit more cooperation. If someone brings up any aspect of this situation, be honest about how upsetting it is and ask them to help you by watching your work area when you’re not around. Let them know that you are quieter than some about socializing, but that you want to have a good relationship with everyone. They may be as upset as you are and spread the word about how badly another employee is behaving.Best wishes to you with all of this. I’m hoping this situation will soon turn around and you’ll be able to enjoy work more.

Tina Lewis Rowe