Hostile Work Environment

Question:

For about a year or so a technician at work has been having angry outbursts, directed at me. He yells and cusses when things don’t go his way. Usually he does this over the phone and I just hang up, but lately he’s in the next office ranting if I give him work (which is my job).

I have complained to the owner, my boss, but he just blows it off and says that the tech calls him when I hang up and fusses at him too. The owner freely admits the tech fusses at him, the owners wife (the accounting person) and kind of jokes that the person before me used to say she should get combat pay for having to deal with this guy.

I have found that by ignoring him I don’t have to worry about his verbal harassments and have not been speaking to him for anything other than business for about a month. last Wednesday I received a repair request and told the tech about it twice – he did not respond. So, as usual I put the printed work order in his box.

Around 2 p.m. he was on his way out for the day. (He works 9 or 10 a.m. until around 2 p.m., even though he’s paid for 8 hours.) He picked up the order and started yelling and cussing at me saying he didn’t “f’ing have time for this sh**” among other things. Finally I had had it and told him that I really didn’t care. He then threw the repair request and about thirty pages of a manual at me and slammed out the office.

I had a huge panic attack and called my spouse. He called my boss and the police. The boss came back and said he was sorry for what happened and wanted the tech to come back the next day to apologize. I said no, because he scares me.

My boss then told me if I press charges he will be forced to fire the tech because he would lose his government base access, so I didn’t file charges. The tech returns in 4 days from travel and the boss is forcing me to meet with him. I am scared of him but the boss brushed me off and said he was going to make the tech go to anger management classes.

What are my rights and where do I stand without getting fired for refusing to be near this tech?

Signed,

Fearful


Answer:

Dear Fearful:

We are not attorneys and can’t provide legal opinions. You may need to consult an attorney to consider your options. Many will provide a free consultation so you can describe your situation and ask if he or she thinks you have either a legal or civil basis for court action.

An attorney could give you advice about whether or not you have protections. Based on the information in your letter, it doesn’t appear that you do. The sad truth is that your boss could fire you rather than the problem employee. If you are a good employee who would be hard to replace, that probably won’t happen, but it could.

As bad as this situation sounds, it doesn’t seem to come under the guidelines for a hostile work environment under the law because it does not involve gender or bias. It is certainly bullying and intimidation, but there are no federal or state laws about that behavior on its own.

The police apparently suggested you could file charges of some kind, but you declined to do that. That would have been your chance to get some action, so I hope you will reconsider that decision if it isn’t too late to do so. That is probably the only way you will be able to avoid working with the tech, for several reasons:

1.) You apparently work for a small company, so there is no higher level to appeal to.

2.) Your boss can’t be required to fire the tech and he seems to be adamant that he is not going to do so. The only thing he seems to be willing to do is send the tech to an anger management class. This assumes the boss can find such a class, the tech can attend soon, and the class is effective. In the meantime your boss hasn’t indicated he will step in to stop any wrong behavior.

According to your boss, if criminal charges are filed the tech would not be able to do work in some situations and he would not be able to continue working there. (That may or may not be the case–something else an attorney could advise you about.)

3.) Sanctioning the tech in some way (requiring him to go to an anger management class, taking away money or cutting off travel or perks) won’t get the employee out of your workplace.

The most pressing problem is this meeting your boss wants you to have. Consider telling your boss that you cannot take the stress and strain of doing so, but that you would accept a written letter of apology along with the tech’s assurance that he won’t yell, cuss or be rude to you again and that he will never again lose his temper with you in that way.

The advantage of having him write you is that not only do you not have to sit across the table from him in such an awkward situation, but you also will have his statements in writing. (Your boss should have already asked the tech for that kind of written promise.)

Consider this question as you’re deciding what to do: If the tech were to apologize and with or without the anger management class he changed his behavior and stopped yelling and cussing, would you be able to got over this bad event and work with him again without fear and stress?

If you think you can work with the tech if he changes, perhaps you can tolerate the situation long enough to give him that chance. But,if you know for sure you cannot work with him no matter how he might change, or if you know you will quit if he continues to act as he has in the past, perhaps you need to make that clear to your boss. That would be drawing a line in the dirt but may get some action.

You could tell your boss that you will accept the written apology, with the understanding that if this kind of thing happens again you will quit immediately. That threat might be enough for your boss to realize what he is risking. Then, if it does happen again you could do as Dr. Gorden sometimes advises and “vote with your feet”. That’s a tough choice of course, but may be the only way to get yourself out of this bad situation.

If you know that you won’t quit, no matter what, it appears you have few options for the reasons mentioned above–your boss can’t be made to fire the tech and your boss apparently values the tech more than anyone else in the office. Once again I’ll suggest that you might want to consult an attorney about this, since you would be able to explain all the details more fully.

Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens as a way to help others in similar situations.

Tina Lewis Rowe