Should I Quit My Job, Since My Manager Doesn’t Support Me Against an Insulting Employee?

Question: I’m a 29 y/o female who works in a male dominated field as a highly-trained industrial worker. I used to work the day shift, but a year ago I switched to working nights due to how I was being treated by the lead hand at the time.

A couple days ago this same lead hand reeked of alcohol (not the first time I’ve smelled it on him), and when I had to ask a work related question in front of both my supervisor and him, he immediately told me, “Shut the fuck up.” My supervisor began laughing, and so did the lead hand.

I didn’t address how inappropriate he was being at the time because I didn’t want to create a scene as he seemed to be heavily intoxicated.

I’m also struggling because I thought both me and my supervisor were getting along and had a good bond with each other… but recently he has talked down at me, by telling me that I’m insecure, when I’m not, and also telling me I lack confidence, when I don’t.

I did bring my discomfort of the lead hand’s behavior to my supervisor’s attention later on that afternoon. But I feel I cannot trust him and his word anymore. He is also close with the lead hand, so this adds to my speculation as to whether I could ever trust him or not now.

My supervisor tried to justify the lead hand’s behavior at first by telling me that he was just joking and saying how I apparently can’t take the joke. But then he said he would address it… I don’t think I can trust his word anymore.

Being told something like that isn’t a joke, and is actually a form of harassment in my opinion. It wasn’t called for whatsoever.

I’m thinking about looking for a different job, putting my two weeks in, and reporting this incident to both HR and the labor board. I’m really sad that this happened because I wanted to stay with the company for a very long time and continue to do the type of work that I love, but I feel like I can’t with this company because of how I’ve been disrespected over time.

Is there anything else I can do to handle this properly?

Answer:

Hello and thank you for sharing your concern with us. I think you would benefit by talking to someone closer to you and your work, to whom you could explain your situation in detail and provide detailed circumstances and who can get to know you and your personality and traits. I will make some suggestions, but I believe you would find it very helpful to consult an attorney, friend, counselor or career counseling professional, as you make decisions about your future.

Your decision about leaving or staying in that job will need to involve the totality of the situation. If you think a well-documented complaint to HR or higher level managers will be respected and investigated, you may be able to make things so much better in your workplace that you can stay and feel good about having a role in the improvement.

If other employees have complained about similar matters but no action has been taken, you may end up in an even more uncomfortable situation. However, if you can find other employment fairly quickly, you may want to make a formal complaint and wait to see what happens. You can quit then, if the results aren’t positive.

You can complain to HR or higher level managers on the basis of several things: First is the fact that having an intoxicated employee in the workplace is dangerous and places coworkers and users of the sheet metal or any other product in jeopardy, because of the potential for errors, poor decisions and substandard work.

Further, the lead hand’s behavior could be indicative of mental or emotional issues that could erupt into something more than rude talk. If he was high on drugs, no one would accept it—and they shouldn’t accept being intoxicated on alcohol either.

The second thing you can complain about is that his actions create a hostile and unproductive work environment. If he tells you to shut the f**k up, he probably says similar things to others—or does something else designed to make coworkers feel uncomfortable or put down. Almost all workplaces have wording in their employee manuals that refer to treating coworkers with respect. Even if it isn’t in writing, almost all businesses would sanction an employee who created such conflict.

You could also complain about the failure of your supervisor to stop the negative behavior of the lead hand—and in fact, to witness it, but minimize it to you. Most organizations include conflict resolution and building a positive workplace environment as part of the job description of a supervisor.

If you are the only person to whom the lead hand is rude and if he has ever mentioned your gender in connection with his rudeness, you could assert that you feel you are being harassed because of your gender. The one example you gave doesn’t necessarily indicate a gender issue, but that is why I think you will benefit from discussing this situation with someone to whom you can provide many more details. It would be important to have a good picture of the totality of his behavior in regards to you and to other women in the workplace.

If you decide to make a complaint, prepare a written timeline of your interactions with the lead hand, starting with the former shift which you left to get away from him. Cite specific words and phrases when possible and your responses, as well as the responses of others. If you can guesstimate how many times you have observed him acting intoxicated, that would be helpful—or how many times you have smelled alcohol on his breath.

If others have talked to you about the lead hand’s intoxication, list them as someone who could support your statements. Especially emphasize the times the lead hand’s behavior (sober or intoxicated) has shut down communication or made work less effective.

As part of your complaint, request the changes that would help you feel better about work. The most likely is that you no longer have to work with the supervisor and lead hand. You may want to request a change in shift (again) or some other change. It sounds to me as though they should fire the lead hand and demote your supervisor, but that is up to the company to decide. Your goal is to be treated with respect and courtesy and to feel comfortable about doing your job, whatever that takes on the part of the company.

If you can show, through evaluation comments, statistics or some other way, that you have been a dependable and effective employee, include that in your letter of complaint, Emphasize that you would like to keep working there, but you can’t do so if you must continue to work with the lead hand and the supervisor who has supported him.

You said your supervisor has told you that he thinks you lack confidence and are insecure. He may be saying that because in many workplaces, especially those with mostly men, rough conversations are the norm. Sometimes otherwise insulting comments are part of friendly bantering. If the comments are part of a serious conflict, others view that the subject is justified in responding with something equally or more insulting.

Everyone knows the potential for negative responses to profane, rude sounding remarks. Nevertheless, many people equate confidence with not being offended by such comments or, if offended, by responding in the same terms. Your supervisor may feel that way—in addition to not wanting to say anything negative to his friend.

I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you confront the lead hand verbally, because there is no way to know how an intoxicated (or sober and hateful) person might respond. However, if you have ever talked to the lead hand about his comments or questioned why he was treating you in a bad way, be sure to include that in your complaint, to show he was aware of the affects of his comments and that you were not taking them as a joke or as a sign of camaraderie.

I do think you should at least be very clear that you reject his remarks or negative behavior toward you. You can frown, shake your head or make a short statement, like, “Don’t say things like that to me.” His role as the lead hand may make that more difficult than it might be if he had less tenure than you, but it’s important to not smile at or tolerate bad behaviors.

That brings us to your basic question: Should you quit, rather than make an attempt to get some justice at work? The answer to that question should consider the totality of your situation, with an emphasis on whether you can find similar work elsewhere—and with the same level of compensation, benefits and convenience for your commute. If you continue with sheet metal work you will probably always be one of the few females in the workplace, so you will want to find out as much as you can about the work culture of prospective jobs.

If you can easily find other work, there are plenty of reasons to move on and give yourself a chance to feel better in your career. If you can’t easily find a similar or better job, you may need to do what you can to improve your current situation. You could also bring lasting improvement for all employees, including women.  

One way to decide whether to go or stay is to analyze your work life—the tasks and the people with whom you interact. Label each of those components in some way, numerically or with a description, to indicate your feelings about them, from very negative to very positive. Next to the negative components, make another label to indicate the potential for that component to improve over the next few months.

You already know the lead hand will be a very negative component. However, you may decide that you can deal with it until something better can be found—or indefinitely. An HR investigation may result in dramatic changes and you can wait until then. Or, there may be enough positive components to offset the terrible lead hand. (I still think an intoxicated person should be reported, no matter how he’s getting along with others.)

Since you say you have previously had a good working relationship with your boss, perhaps you can still get positive results by communicating with him about this situation. Tell him you want to keep working there, but the behavior and comments of the lead hand are making you seriously consider leaving. Ask him one more time for his support. Don’t accept as a solution that you should just learn to tolerate the rudeness. That’s not a solution, that’s just a way for the supervisor to avoid becoming involved.

If your supervisor is ever going to fulfill his leadership and supervisory role, your direct communication with him may push him into it. If he values the friendship of the lead hand more than he values your contribution to the workplace, at least you’ll know where you stand. And, you’ll be able to demonstrate that you did all you could do to deal with the situation without a formal complaint.

All of the above is why I think you would find it very helpful to have someone near by who can know the details of the situation, how you feel about finding other work and what approach to this situation would work best for you.

If you have the time and wish to do so, please let us know what you decide to do and how it works out. You’re dealing with a very challenging situation, but you can come out of it in a positive way if you stay strong and insist upon a respectful and effective workplace for yourself and others.

Best wishes to you!
Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors