Feeling Bullied At Work

Question:

If one employee tells others about a coworker having an abortion, is that a hostile work environment? What about if the victim is being bullied and called a bitch, left out of things and being talked about where she can hear it?

Signed,

Wanting Some Answers


Answer:

Dear Wanting Some Answers:

You don’t say if you’re the one being treated in this way, but it certainly sounds like a workplace where people have been allowed to treat each other in a mean way.

I’m going to assume the coworker doing the talking is a female. We’re not legal experts on this topic, but the hostile work environment requirements don’t seem to apply here. If you have more information to provide, you should contact an EEO office or the HR office of the workplace, if there is one.

However, the first thing to do is to go to the supervisor or manager and ask for help about this. You may prefer to go to HR or to some other group who can help you at work.

The medical situation of an employee, including abortion information, should never be discussed. Neither should terms like “bitch” be used in nasty conversations, especially when the employee can hear it.

The employee should tell the manager or HR what was said, when, who was a witness and what were the circumstances, and ask that it be stopped immediately. The supervisor may not want to get involved, but if the employee sticks with it, the supervisor will have to do something.

What happens a lot of times is that the employee complains in a vague sort of way. Often the employee never insists that something has to be done. One way to say that is to say that the coworkers won’t listen, so you have to have the help of the supervisor. Insist upon it in a respectful way.

One warning about this though: The employee who is being treated badly should make sure she is not as much of a problem. Usually when people are being called bad names, there has been some back and forth between everyone involved. If that has been the case here, that should stop immediately.

If the coworkers have no reason to be mean, they often will give up and move on. If, on the other hand, no matter how much the employee has tried to be effective, the coworkers have been mean, tormenting, saying nasty things and being cruel, the employee is going to have to get help. They won’t stop on their own.

If you are the one being bothered in this way, I’ll urge you to make sure you’re doing things right yourself, then go to your supervisor and say you can’t fix this and need his or her help to make the unpleasntness stop. It might not get better right away and you might never have good friends there. But, at least the open nastiness might stop.

Don’t gossip with others about the ring-leader of the gang, just focus on doing your job well. Talk to some of the people who will be friendly to you and don’t discuss this situation. If they say something, say that you’re hoping it will improve so you can enjoy work again. Keep being a friend to others, especially others who have also been shut out.

If you must say something to the people who are being mean, say it in a civil way. “I don’t know why you dislike me, but I can’t help that. I’m just asking you to treat me with respect here at work when we have to talk.” Say it over and over in one way or another, until she catches on that you’re not going to yell back or try to get even with her. That may help.

You may also find you will need to keep an eye open for other work, to give yourself a chance to get out of this unpleasant situation. You deserve to be able to work without these feelings and I hope you’ll have that chance very soon.

Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens with this.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.