I was out of work for the remainder of the week starting Tuesday last week. I let my manager know that I had a very personal medical issue. Come to find out on my return to work that she had disclosed this information with the rest of my co workers without my permission. Is this a violation of a hippa law? –Signed Very Personal:
My boss used to be great with me, but recently he has seemed to feel differently about me, as though he doesn’t trust me. He will talk to other employees about work, but not include me in any of it. I asked one of my colleagues about this change in attitude and she told me that he thinks I am snitching on him. She told me not to tell anyone that she gave me that information.
I tried to talk to him, to find out more about it, but he wouldn’t even talk to me or listen to me. .
Dear Sir, I need some information about what to do. Where I work there are a few other people. The owner’s common law wife is one of them. She is making things very difficult for me. I have worked here for the last 14 months. She purposely goes out of her way to victimize me, but in a very crafty way that no one else can tell that she is. It has started to make me feel ill. I have been a loyal, hardworking, reliable employee. What can I do?
Signed, Reliable and Ill
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors
about being threatened at work.
What can I do when my boss’s husband threatened me, saying “When you finish work, meet me outside.” And, “You don’t know who you’re messing with”?
It is certainly wrong for the husband or wife of an employee at any level, to get involved with work situations, even if they feel their spouse is being treated badly by someone at work. Most bosses or employees don’t like it either. What you do in your situation will depend upon whether or not your boss has a boss above her or if she owns the business—and if the husband works there too.
1. First talk to your boss and let her know what her husband told you, if she doesn’t know it already. Tell her that although you may have a conflict with her or with the work, you don’t want to risk being harmed or having her husband get in trouble with the police, by having her husband take on the fight for her, forcing you to defend yourself.
It doesn’t sound as though the two things he told you would be considered a threat under the law, but she may fear that you will call the police and will take action on her own to tell her husband to mind his own business and stay out of hers. She may (and should) also fear that a fight of some kind could result in serious harm to one or both of you. Even pushes and shoves can be deadly.
2. If it seems your boss doesn’t intend to try to stop her husband or doesn’t take your concerns seriously, go the person higher than her—or several levels higher if necessary. Even if someone is sympathetic to the husband, they will hopefully have enough wisdom to direct your boss to tell him to stay away from the property or stop talking to you and to not cause further trouble.
3. If you have a witness to the statements he made to you and you can show that he has harmed others in the past or is very likely to carry out his threats, you would be more likely to be able to contact the police and say you feel threatened. But generally, statements have to threaten something specific. For example, “Meet me outside and I’m going to use this knife.” Or, “You don’t know who you’re messing with. I’ve broken legs before and I can do it again.”
I don’t use those examples to frighten you, but rather, to show you the specific nature of a threat, in most jurisdictions.
4. If you think none of this will help, you may need to find another place to work, where you will be more safe. That may be what your boss is after—or she may not want you to quit and will be jolted enough at the thought that she would talk to her husband. Her husband might realize how his bragging threats have created more trouble than he intended and he would shut up and learn a good lesson.
5. However, don’t lose sight of the original problem. Why did your boss’s husband think things were so bad that he needed to threaten you to make you change your behavior? It could be that he is mentally ill or has anger management issues and he is upset for little or no justifiable reason. But, when a spouse of a boss makes a threat, it usually reflects something the boss has talked about. So, consider your own situation too and resolve to be courteous and cooperative and to communicate in a civil way with your boss and others.
Quite often employees get into a habit of treating people at work badly, because they have done it before and nothing has happened to them. They let their negative feelings show and make work miserable for many people around them, especially for the boss. I don’t know your situation, but maybe the threats by your boss’s husband should be a wake-up call to you, to alert you to a pattern of behavior that you have gotten into, without realizing it.
If you have friends at work, ask them how you might be viewed by others. Ask them if they think there are some things you can do to improve your relationship with your boss. Focus on your work and on following instructions about it. Be a contributing part of the team. That may be all that is necessary to stop the unwanted interference of the boss’s husband. He is wrong to do it, but it may be easy to stop.
6. Let me reiterate that if you believe you or your property may be harmed, you should report it to the police. Tell them exactly what was said and when. Don’t go back to work if you think harm will happen to you there. I think you can handle this on your own, but I don’t know all of the circumstances and I don’t want you to put yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily.
7. Your immediate actions should be pay attention to what is going on around you. Have your car keys ready. When you leave work, walk with someone. If you see the husband hanging around, ask someone to walk out with you or call the police and ask them to stand-by to assist you if needed. In most police jurisdictions, officers can provide that kind of service.
At your home, keep your doors locked and do not open them to the husband if he shows up. Alert your family as well. Even it seems a bit excessive, it’s a safe way to live anyway.
Best wishes to you as you work through this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops and what solutions you find.
Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about bad attitude:
I am facing a situation where I don’t know where to start. My manager has been accusing me of having bad attitude, saying I fail to control my behaviour and it is now affecting the team. I am not aware of any behavioural issues from my side; she even calls me at 20:00 to ask me what is my problem. I have had a meeting with her to discuss the matter, so I told her that I feel that I am under surveillance and can she highlight immediately when she picks up that attitude or behaviour problem.
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about feeling pushed out at work.
I work with a boss who doesn’t put boundaries in place for us. He also never holds meetings. As a result, colleagues often wade into work that I am doing. This frustrates me.
Additionally, boss doesn’t correct meanness when it is evident; i.e. mean comments from colleagues directed towards me. When I bring these things up to boss, boss listens and acts as if he’s going to address it but it just makes things worse for me.
I feel like I am not seen as credible by my colleagues and often contemplate leaving for something new. I feel invisible, unheard and often like I’m the problem-child.
I’ve sought out counseling, but I don’t feel like it’s working. Any other suggestions?
You say you went to counseling, but you don’t feel that the advice you received is working for you. Please don’t give up on counseling or the counselor. It could take a while for you to fully express some of your feelings or to fully share some of your experiences. At some point you may decide another counselor might be more effective for you–but unless there is an strong need to change counselors, stick with this one for a while longer.
The best counselors focus on helping you find most of your solutions. But, when they make suggestions, the advice often needs to be adjusted, just as medical prescriptions often are adjusted, based on results. Tell your counselor what is and isn’t working and what results you have seen, and perhaps that will lead to some different perceptions by both you and the counselor.
2. Even if you have done so already, do some problem analysis about your situation. Take it apart and see if from various perspectives. If you can identify a time when things were good at work and when you felt positive about your relationships there, think about when that was, what was happening on a daily basis and what is the same or has changed.
•Ask yourself if you can reasonably expect another change in the near future. Is it likely your manager will move to another assignment? Are some of your coworkers likely to leave? Is the layout of the office going to stay the same or change in some way? Is there going to be a lasting change in some aspect of the work or the way in which you and others must interact to get it done? Thinking about that will let you make a better decision about your future plans.
•Consider if any of your coworkers are congenial—or do all of them treat you in a way you find to be hurtful or negative. Ask yourself if you are the only one to whom they make the mean comments you mentioned or do some others get treated in the same way. If several of you are having the same experiences, perhaps you can connect with each other and focus on supporting each other as well as on making your combined voices heard.
•You didn’t say how many coworkers you have or if there are other offices in addition to yours. Perhaps you can establish a supportive relationship with an effective employee in another area of the work.
•Make a list of a few of the mean or hurtful things coworkers have said to you in the last two weeks, so you can share specifics with your counselor or discuss them specifically with your supervisor. Are the remarks about your work product? Are they truthful critiques or lies? Are the remarks about your appearance? About your ethnicity or gender? About something in your personal life? About something you’ve said related to work or about something you’ve said regarding away-from work issues? Are they said in a spontaneous way as things happen or do one or more employees seem to purposely come to your work area to attack you verbally?
•Consider how you have responded when something hurtful has been said. Have you countered with your reasons for the actions they were criticizing? Have you ever told anyone that their remarks make you feel unhappy or stressful?
•On the other hand, do you often have something positive to say to others? Could you cite daily examples of a smiling expression, an offer to help or a supportive comment? Is it possible others see you as unfriendly or are they being mean to you in spite of your actions?
•How do you think your colleagues feel about themselves and others? Is everyone unhappy about the situation there or does it seem most of them feel positive and only you feel so badly?
All of those thoughts are ways to help you be able to clearly and concisely describe your workplace and the behaviors by coworkers that are having an effect on your attitudes and feelings.
3. You mentioned that colleagues wade into work that you are doing. Consider why that is happening. Most computer-based work is clearly the responsibility of one person. Other work can be marked in some way to let others know where you stopped and what else needs to be done. I don’t know your work situation, but it would be odd if an employee voluntarily did much more than what they are supposed to do, just to irritate a co-worker.
So, think through that one and see what you think their logical reason is for doing your work in addition to their own. Perhaps you can determine a way to designate assigned work more effectively. If your boss isn’t concerned about it, perhaps it doesn’t matter who is doing a task as long as it gets done. Find out more and think through whether usurping your work is being done spitefully, helpfully, because it’s been assigned or because there is confusion about who is responsible.
4. You imply that you have talked to the manager about the situation. Your best approach is to put it in writing so there is documentation of what you have tried to accomplish. Be very accurate as you report what was said or what occurred. When possible, use a dialogue approach to state the precise words used by each person and by yourself. Also describe the tone of voice, facial expression or anything else that can add to the description.
•You said your boss listens but just makes things worse for you. Does she make an effort to intervene or do you think she purposely makes things worse for you by encouraging people to continue to treat you badly? It is important to know that, in case you feel you should go to your company’s HR section or a higher manager, if there is one.
•Consider asking your boss to help you in specific ways and also to give you some quick coaching advice. She’s heard what you’ve said is going on. Now, ask her for some specific assistance, rather than just asking for help generally. Then, ask her for specific suggestions for what you ought to do instead of what you are now doing, to bring about improvement.. For example, “I’d like for you to tell Mary to stop laughing with Jan, every time I pass their desks to go to the copy room. I’d also like you to tell those two to stop mimicking me when I’m on the phone. Both of those things are distracting to everyone’s work, including to me. Will you do that? Also, I’d like to know what you want me to do if you’ve talked to them but they do it anyway. What would you suggest?”
•As I mentioned earlier, if you put that in an email and your manager responds in an email, you’ll have clear documentation of your efforts—and, just as importantly, your boss will have something specific to do, rather than just hearing a vague complaint and a request for her to make things right. The reality is the most bosses hate to be involved in workplace conflict. They avoid it when possible and shrug it off or only half-halfheartedly do something, the rest of the time. Often, they think both sides are to blame, but don’t want to say that, so they give out a vague promise but don’t do much more than gently ask both sides to get along better. That reality is why conflict in some workplaces goes on year after year.
5. Look at this from your manager’s perspective. You think she should set boundaries and have regular meetings. But, she knows that most employees complain about meetings, don’t want to attend them and act hostile to managers who call the meetings. I don’t agree with that thinking, but that’s the way it is. So, there is no incentive for your boss to do it. There is especially no incentive if she thinks she will be expected to bring up problems and confront people or the group. Perhaps you can suggest a meeting time and also suggest things to commend or plans for new project to discuss. Taking that leadership role would also offset what seems to you to be your role as a problem employee.
6. Does your boss own the business or lead the entire organization? If not, there are probably other layers above him or her. Is there anyone else in the company with whom you could discuss the situation? HR’s function is to ensure the best use of human resources, so there may be someone there who would provide you with some insights or advice.
7. You say you don’t feel credible and that you feel like you are seen as a problem child. Credibility requires that you are seen as being effective in your overall performance and in your behavior—and your responses to the behaviors of others. About 98% of the time we should be buzzing along without a need for supervisory help or intervention, unless we have a new project that requires extra coaching. There will be situations that are irritating, frustrating and even hurtful, but an effective employee will work through those and continue to be effective.
8. I’m certainly not advising you to quit your job. However, if you have a marketable skill and think you could find a place where the environment would be more congenial and supportive, that may be your best solution. It would be one way to cut ties with a place that you feel is dragging you down. At the same time, it would give you a chance to make changes in your own behavior or performance, if you think you have made mistakes in your handling of situations in your current workplace. Most importantly, it will be give you a chance to interact with new people and new styles of work and gain the credibility you feel you lack right now.
9. The bottom line is that at a distance I don’t know any of the particulars about your work or your personality, age, tenure, education and communication skills in comparison to those of your colleagues. Those will all have an effect on what you do and how you do it. However, you really have only three options: (1.) Stay there and let the same things keep happening, hoping for a change in the future. (2.) Stay there and purposefully become part of the office in a positive way. Engage more with everyone and demonstrate an undeniably strong level of work and behavior. At the same time, realize that you are being paid for your own work product and your own behavior, not anyone else’s. Just do it and try to shut out the distractions. (3.) Do as Dr. Gorden often suggests, and vote with your feet by leaving and finding a better workplace.
Before you do the last thing, you should do the second thing long enough to see if it can work for you. In addition to your counselor, you have family and friends, maybe former coworkers or others who know you and can give you truthful input. Work at it and see if things change for the better, even if just incrementally. After a few more months you can say you gave it your best. At that point, you can decide whether to move on or stay, but at least you will have done all you can do.
Best wishes to you with all of this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things are developing and what results you are getting.
Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about redundancy in the UK:
A couple of months ago, I got a new job, in a jump-before-being-pushed situation during a redundancy process. I was also one of the Union Reps negotiating the redundancy (this is the UK), which continued briefly while I was in my new job.
There were red flags at the start — I was concerned that the person my new employer saw wasn’t sure who I am (i.e. she kept calling me, ‘creative’ in a way that seemed a euphemism for not being solid or sensible.)
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being accused
of speaking to a manager with a raised voice.
Question: I recently came through an 18 month investigation by my hospital into my professionalism at work because I raised concerns on safety. I managed to come through with them apologizing for certain things and not following up on a verbal warning. I have now been accused of raising my voice to my line manager which is incorrect as I did not, but I did challenge being unsupported in the workplace as she was meant to allocate staff to ensure I was not left on my own with 11 cardiac patients with no help.
Can they sack me? There were no actual witnesses but it would not surprise me if one is found.
Response: It would seem extreme for you to be fired for only raising your voice—especially following a situation in which you were cleared, at least in part, for another accusation. Could they fire you? Yes. But there would be a formal process involved and if you have an employment contract there could be a longer process. Will they? It depends upon the circumstances surrounding the situation.
For example, a lot would depend upon the words you used, the accusations you made and how you made them, your overall demeanor and tone of voice and other aspects of the situation. It would also make a difference if you were complaining about being left alone for a full shift, an hour or a few minutes, and what the circumstances were surrounding you being left alone.
Although disciplinary cases are more easily upheld if there are witnesses, there do not have to be witnesses to sanction an employee about an interaction with a supervisor or manager, since many such interactions happen in private offices. In those cases quite often those higher up will apply a guideline of “Is that like him or her?” If you have never been known to raise your voice or to seem aggressive or verbally challenging, the matter will be different than if you have been known to do those things in the past.
Your best action at this point is to write out the exact dialogue as near as you can remember it, without any editorial comments about what you think your manager meant or should have said. Just write down what both of you said. If tone of voice or demeanor is significant, write that down too. Be prepared to discuss what happened, as accurately as possible.
Keep in mind that even if your manager did not perform her work in the way you consider to be best, it won’t be accepted as an excuse for what you might have said or the way you said it. Focus on discussing what happened at that moment. You will be able to explain what led up to it, but if you repeatedly talk about what your manager did wrong, it will look as though you are trying to deflect attention from your own behavior. If she did something wrong, it most likely will be handled without you knowing about it.
I can certainly imagine that this is frustrating to you. However, by demonstrating, through the way you handle discussions about this recent issue, that you are self-controlled and not likely to have intimidated, threatened or verbally abused your manager, you will certainly have a better likelihood of this being only an unpleasant bump in the road. I hope you will be able to move past this and continue moving forward without similar things happening in the future.
Best wishes to you. If you have the time and want to do so, let us know what happens.
Ask the Workplace Doctors
First, thank you again for the advice you gave me as it was much appreciated. Secondly to let you know what happened.
Fortunately nothing came of it, I am not quite sure why, as it was the talk of the ward for a day or two and had been over-exaggerated. But, it has put me on the defensive and I will be checking my personnel file to see if anything has been put there without my knowledge, as this has happened previously.
I cannot but praise your site for answering so quickly and so informatively….Thank you. Kind Regards
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about getting help from new manager:
I work at an upper scale restaurant as a host. My responsibilities include things such as, greeting guests, and walking them over to a table that best fits their needs and requests, I also check coats for guests and am in charge of taking to-go orders and ringing them in and giving it to the guests, and many other things. As I do have quite a few tasks to be fulfilled throughout my shift, it can get rather busy and stressful. Especially on a Saturday night whenever we got busy like that, our old general manager would come over and check on us very periodically to make sure I and the other host didn’t need any help. And if we were very busy, he would stay with us during the rush to make sure everything was flowing smoothly.
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss taking a cut of tips:
My line of work focuses on getting paid through tips. My boss takes a percentage of tips from each worker which is unfair because we are independent contractors and our boss does not help us in any part of our work. Our boss tells us that the reasoning behind getting a percentage of everyone’s tips is because he assigns us work. This seems to be troubling because I deserve to be awarded all of my tips instead of my boss taking credit and awarding himself my rightful tip money.