Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about slander:

I recently started work at a high tech fabrication site. I relocated from several states away. I work on the night weekend shifts. I have over 30 years experience in the industry. There is a co-worker, who has been at the company for over 13 years, who works days; weekdays (we have pass-down with each other every Monday), who apparently has been slandering me with the announced intention of getting me fired. I have been told by several sources, who are all willing to speak on my behalf, that he has announced that he “hates” me and is working on getting me fired.

He has then proceeded to spread false rumors around about me. Such things as, “I came in to work 3 times this past week on nights and couldn’t find him anywhere”. “He doesn’t know how to work on these power supplies and just blew up several thousand dollars worth of parts.” There are more things and each is false and intended to defame me in the workplace. I have proven to my management that I am quite competent and a valuable asset to the company.

In truth, I threaten my co-workers previous position of being the # 1 ranked employee at our position. I have been told by many people that this is the normal operating practices of this individual and that he has gotten several previous employees fired or removed from their position with his tactics under previous management. Luckily for me, he has not “hood-winked” the current management. In fact, he has openly stated that he “hates” our current management, and like his statements regarding me, he is working on getting our department manager fired.I have spoken to my immediate supervisor who himself has received this co-workers “bad-mouthing”, and he advised me to speak with our HR department. I plan on doing this, but any advice you can give me on presenting my case would be greatly appreciated. Also, do I have grounds (in your opinion) for a civil case against this person? Thank you for your time.

Signed, Badmouthed

Dear Badmouthed:

Speaking with HR should guide you as to the appropriate protocol for handing a complaint about co-worker “bad-mouthing”. It would be helpful if you come to HR with a log of incidents that have been reported to you; including the exact words the co-worker reportedly uttered, who reported them to you, and when and under what circumstance they were witnessed. Also state that you consulted your supervisor and were advised to speak to HR. Probably it would be good to have with you a written request to have the matter investigated and have it stopped. This matter should not be allowed to fester.

You might request to be informed what course you should take; avoidance, confrontation, etc. and when and what disciplinary action is taken if the individual is found to be doing what was reported to you. We don’t provide legal advice. You might want to consult an attorney depending on what HR does and whether the “slander” continues. Suing for damages is lengthy and usually depends on real loss of status and money. In your long tenure, you no doubt have witnessed the difference between workplaces with a culture of respect and those of overt or suppressed animosity. Incivility is not good business. Sometimes quality improvement efforts are an indirect, but effective way to make incivility out of bounds. That is management’s job.

Civility, thus, becomes an element and byproduct of management-championed practices focused on concerted quality improvement. Slogans and rhetoric are translated into hard numbers: drastic cuts in defects and increased customer satisfaction, cutting wasted supplies, time, money, energy and focus on innovations.Reading and re-reading your question have brought to mind some impressions; if irrelevant just ignore them: You have implied that your work and this co-worker’s are loosely interdependent.

Might it be that that relationship, if necessary, needs to be spelled out more definitely and/or so designed that there is no need for contact? Apparently cross-shift team building is non-existent in your work site and needs to be addressed. By whatever current name it goes by, team building has been part of the culture of healthy work environments, and your supervisors and managers should see it as an indirect way to prevent and cope with destructive workers talk.I don’t know what attracted to you come to this new site, but those who brought you should know that new hires are like someone entering a room in which a group of people are already in a conversation.

Possibly “them that brung you” should be informed of the rumors that this co-worker is reportedly out to get you fired. They should smooth the way for you to join in the conversation and shaping of this place. If necessary they should knock heads together to enable you to perform to their expectations. Not everyone has to like you or you like him or her, but all should treat you civilly and none should slander you. These musings are beyond your immediate questions and are meant to add to the moral support.

Work is hard enough and discord makes it harder. The survival and prosperity of every workplace is linked to overarching goals that can’t be achieved without the collective commitment of every division of labor. You have been around long enough to know that you shouldn’t have to fight shadows. I wish that you would find ways to cope with this unhappiness. Keep your eyes focused on the reason you moved here. Don’t allow this to become an obsession or matter of gossip at work or home. Think up. You don’t have to own the place to know how important it is for this disgruntled coworker, who might feel his status is threatened, to save face and to come to understand that working together or separately with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden