Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a Post that was seen as threatening:
My coworker reported a Facebook post that another coworker posted to our boss. I participated in commenting on the post along with other coworkers. The coworker that reported the post told our boss that she felt threatened by the Facebook post. The Facebook post had absolutely nothing to do with her. The Facebook post did not mention any names and did not mention our place of employment. Our boss has now assigned this particular coworker and I to work closely together in the same department, although the coworker has stated that she felt threatened by me. Is this legal?
Signed, Working With Coworker Who Said She Feels Threatened By Me
Dear Worker Working With Coworker Who Said She Feels Threatened By Me:
This isn’t a legal matter and if it were, we would advise you seek the counsel of an attorney. Your boss can make assignments as she thinks are important to get the work done efficiently and effectively. That is her job. Your job is to do your best to work cooperatively with coworkers.
That is the blunt answer to your question. The more empathic and important answer is for you to learn from this situation: 1. To take care not to post opinions that might be taken as threatening and 2. To reflect on what has been going on that could cause your coworker to report she feels threatened by you.
Posting. Apparently, you were careful not to include “any names and did not mention our place of employment.” But apparently what you posted could be interpreted as interpersonally threatening. Words can trigger fear and defensiveness. If and when you next post, might it be wise to share wishes for sunshine? Life is short and too filled with negatives. Can you post positives, especially about topics that might be related to work?
What’s going on? Review what has happened between you and the coworker who reported she feels threatened by you. Have you gossiped about her? Have you been abrupt? Loud? Ignored her? Rolled your eyes at what she did? Bullied? Working with others can be misery or can be something to be tolerated? Ideally your boss will bring you and the coworker together and help resolve what prompted the feeling of threat. Ideally, the coworker would have come to you to talk through what made her feel threatened. However, neither of those forms of confrontation happened.
So now you have choices: to bite your tongue and ignore the feelings that were expressed or to surface them. How? By asking the coworker what it is that prompted her to report she feels threatened or by asking your boss to conduct a reconciliatory session. Talking about feelings, especially feelings that provoke reporting on a coworker, are important to making a workplace civil and productive. That’s what you and your coworker are hired for.
My associate workplace doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe, puts her advice this way: My thought was as yours…the boss probably made the new assignment as a way to say, “Can’t get along? Try this!” The one is who probably most concerned is the one who feels threatened. I would add that this is a good way for the writer to ensure that the coworker discovers there is no threat and that actually they could be effective coworkers, even if they’re not friends away from work. Rather than resenting the close assignment, make at least an attempt to get the best out of it, since work is hard enough without rubbing elbows all day with people with whom we’re in conflict.”
Do these thoughts make sense? Is it not time to see your assignment as positive—as an opportunity– rather than to blame your boss for forcing you to work with a coworker who feels threatened by you? Think through the meaning of my signature sentence: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and please let us know what you choose to do and how it works out.
I guess I should’ve given more information. The coworker and I used to be friends. I broke off our friendship due to some of her personality traits that did not sit well with my morals. I have never yelled at her or been a bully to her. As a matter of fact, she tried to become a bully to me. All of this is documented and reported. The Facebook post had absolutely nothing to do with her and was an inside joke between me and other friends. She doesn’t even have a Facebook account. She had someone screen shot the post off my page. The Facebook post was her way at getting back at me for breaking off the friendship. Once other coworkers found out that she lied on me, other coworkers reported to our boss their experience of her mistreatment of them, which led to her demotion. Furthermore, I did find within the labor laws that if an employer knowing puts coworkers together that have had past problems and another incident happens, the employer can be found liable.
I just wanted to make the situation more transparent because your answer makes it seem like I am messing with my coworker when in fact it is the other way around.
Reply: Thank you for sending additional information. I will add this postscript to your question and our answer. Often other negative things have been going on that provoke an incident as you now describe. You say this coworker lied and bullied you and that this was reported and resulted in her demotion.
In this case, you appear to blame your boss for assigning you to work with a coworker with whom you and she have had had trouble. You say your boss did this in spite of that and that you know there are laws against that. We do not provide legal advice do not know of such laws. But if you do, please share that with us. Have you confronted your superior about how you feel about being assigned with this coworker? If so, what was his/her answer? Did it make sense, even for a trial period? If not did you challenge that assignment by stating that you found “within the labor laws that if an employer knowing puts coworkers together that have had past problems and another incident happens, the employer can be found liable.”
I hope you will see this disturbing assignment to work with this particular coworker as an opportunity to work through your past differences or at least to tolerate her. If not that, that you will challenge your boss to re-assign you to work about which you feel good. Our site is committed to making communication as effective and pleasant as is reasonable and possible for all concerned. Your career path will be happy and long to the extent that can be realized. Please again make time to post us on what you elect to do. Do all you can to make the best possible out of this situation.
Finally, I trust that you are now more cautious about what you do on Facebook. Obviously, it can adversely affect your working relationships and career. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.