Is This Emotional Abuse?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about changing job title and write up:

My new supervisor changed my job title, then wrote me up for inadequacy. I wake up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe. Is this emotional abuse? I feel I am being bullied. Can I report harrassment?

Signed, Feeling Abused At Work

DearĀ Feeling Abused At Work:

There is obviously much more to the full story than the basic information you mentioned. All the details would be needed to evaluate whether or not harassment or abuse is happening. If you think it is, you might want to talk to an attorney who specializes in such cases and ask for a free consultation. They could quickly tell you if you have any civil or legal recourse. However, let me share some thoughts that might also assist you.

1. You say your new supervisor has changed your job title–and presumably your job description. That can be disconcerting, but it is not punitive unless your salary was lowered too. If it was, perhaps you need to show how your work fits the former job title and salary. Job titles belong to the company, in that they are used merely to describe work and link the work to a pay scale or simply to help structure the organizational chart. A business can make or change job titles as they choose, unless there is some illegality associated with it. But also consider that a supervisor does not have the authority on his own to change a job title, so you can be sure your manager and/or Human Resource department agreed with the change. In addition, such a change does not happen overnight, so something had to be written to justify it, and there had to be some discussion and consideration about it.

2. You said you were written up for inadequacy. This is where you would have the most evidence of organizational wrong doing by the supervisor, if you think that is the case. If the supervisor cited actions on your part that did not occur, and you can show otherwise, that would be helpful. If the supervisor says you lack an ability or skill, but you can show you do have it, that is also something that is needed.If the job description was changed, knowing that you wouldn’t be able to fulfill the new requirements, that would seem to be worthy of appeal to your manager or to Human Resources. That would also be something an attorney might want to know about, if you feel the change was solely due to your gender, race, age, religion or other protected status, and you think you can prove it.

3. But here is something else to consider: Have you talked to your supervisor about how you can become better in the areas in which you were written up as being inadequate? Have you tried to improve in the areas that seem problematic? Have you ever had any problems with work before now? Has anyone ever hinted or told you that you seemed to not be doing what was expected or wanted? Those are things to consider. It could be your new supervisor was told to straighten some problems out, and your work was considered part of the problems! If you don’t agree with your supervisor you need to be talking openly and honestly about what you can do to help change the supervisor’s opinion of your work. You have nothing to lose by being honest about it, and a lot to gain.

4. Have you been threatened with firing, or have you mostly been told that your work needs to improve? It may be that you are so concerned about this that you are viewing it in a much more negative way than your supervisor. Adequate work is standard work. Inadequate work is not fulfilling the standard in one or more ways. That doesn’t describe a poor employee, just one who needs to improve. Perhaps looking closely at the written comments by your supervisor will help you decide exactly how bad the situation is.

5. If all of this just happened in the last few weeks, you likely are still feeling shocked and upset. It’s normal to feel afraid and very worried in a situation such as this. But, the fact that you feel emotional doesn’t make the actions of your supervisor emotionally abusive. Neither does it necessarily describe bullying.Supervision and management is not easy–and often hurts the feelings of employees, makes them angry or makes them feel threatened. That is an unfortunate thing, but sometimes cannot be avoided. Sometimes it’s a GOOD thing for an employee to be worried about his job, because it reminds him that if he wants to keep it he has to make some changes.But, good supervisors and managers would prefer to not resort to negative tactics unless positive ones have failed. So, you may also want to ask yourself if your supervisor talked to you about your performance before all of this happened. Have you ever, at any time, had the feeling your supervisor was not completely satisfied with your work? If you didn’t have even a clue about that, let your manager and Human Resources people know that you had no warning that you needed to change.

6. One final suggestion: Go to your supervisor and tell him how upset you feel. Ask what you can do to help make things better. Or, ask what you can do to help your supervisor see your value to the company. Rather than losing sleep over it, try to find a way through it.If you have friends at work, maybe you can get their perspectives. If you have access to former work evaluations, maybe you can review those to see if there were indications of problems. But the main thing you need to do is to focus on whatever you have been told by your supervisor is necessary to bring your work up to the adequate level. You may not agree with it, but if you can do it, you should work to do it. That would be valuable to do, whether or not you talk to an attorney or go to HR.I hope these thoughts will help you sort through things and help you decide on a plan of action. Hopefully you will be able to establish a better relationship with your supervisor and that will also assist you.Best wishes in this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what actions you take and what happens.

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.