Question: I was recently terminated from my place of employment of four years on the accusation of hostile work environment. I was disqualified from unemployment benefits because of this. I have always treated my team with respect. given them praises on their work and given them incentives along with Christmas bonus. I believe this accusation arose because of my belief in maintaining and keeping a professional relationship with the team. I don’t engage in joking or becoming too chummy. When you try to correct them they feel that you are intimidating them. What should I do?
Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about causing a hostile work environment:
My boss has indirectly stated that I am causing a hostile work environment. I have a coworker that is always telling her what I say and I have been called into her office to many times, the coworker is her pet. We all used to get along. 3 week ago she was made a backup lead, now we do not speak. She’s in the boss’ ear all the time. I do not want to lose my job over this. Please help.
Signed, What I Say
Dear What I Say:
So what do you say to your coworker who’s the boss’s pet? Why have you been called into the boss’ office many times? What specifically has she said about you causing a hostile work environment? How did you respond to your boss? Was she wrong about you? Obviously you feel that you might lose your job now that your former coworker has been made a led and you and she don’t speak. No one, and that includes the workplace doctors, can give you advice that will prevent you being fired. You can’t prevent that if your boss decides that you are irresponsible, don’t complete assignments satisfactorily, badmouth her in gossip, and do indeed cause a hostile work environment. And your boss should fire you if this is true of you.
I’ll assume that you are looking in the mirror to ask why you have been called in the office and are frustrated because some of the things she said aren’t true even if others are. Have you been defensive, saying I did or didn’t do that, or have you apologized and committed to correcting what you were accused of? Is it not time for straight talk between your boss and you– and no more of this indirect talk? We too often avoid those we think evaluate us negatively. My suggestions will be the opposite of that.
Therefore, without knowing as you do the details or context, here are several options for you to consider:Face up to how you come across to your boss, coworkers, and internal/external customers. Do you arrive at work early and stay past time when there is something yet to be done? Are you have good hygiene and are well groomed and business-like in appearance; someone your boss would not be ashamed of to have you out front to customers? Do you speak politely and warmly?
Request a meeting with your boss to get a performance evaluation. Learn what she wants from you and what she says you can do to correct them. Come to that meeting with specific questions and suggestions of how you might improve your performance, such as ways to cut wasted supplies, wasted time, and wasted energy. Come with ideas of how you might do your share to make her and your coworkers’ jobs easier and more effective. Most of all come with suggestions of how you and your office might delight those who get the products and services of your office. In short, come with a plan and request that your boss add her suggestions on what you can do to measure up to be the kind of worker she wants and that you want to be. Agree on a time for your boss to assess how well you are following this plan. This is to establish regular times you and your boss talk about your progress or failures.
This past week we received good news from one individual who had written us months ago that she was seen as a jerk in her workplace. This most recent email from her was proof that she no longer was seen that way. I recommend that you read the Q&A on our site titled Working Jerk Updated. I predict that months from now, we will also hear good news from you if you resolve to be no longer seen as causing a hostile environment. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.
Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about hostile work environment, discrimination/favoritism/nepotism, as well as a gross inequity of the pay scale:
I have filed a grievance against the State office I work for, and have progressed to a Level III complaint. The basis for this grievance is: hostile work environment, discrimination/favoritism/nepotism, as well as a gross inequity of the pay scale. They have denied my grievance at Levels I and II because they feel these instances were not within 10 days of the last grieve able occurrence. I am a 25 year employee with a good work history, a lengthy resume’, and numerous letters of recommendations from co-workers, former directors, and from individuals from the public I serve. I suffered a heart attack, a triple bypass, and an emergency aortic bypass within the last 2 years, and was off work for four months as a result.
Since my return to work, I have been having problems with two former union personnel that have been appointed or hired into our office within the last three years. I previously worked with these individuals as members of a Board for which I perform secretarial work. For the last year and a half, I have been threatened numerous times with letters of reprimand for occurrences that other workers are blatantly allowed to perform, and favoritism is the norm. The last instance, I was threatened with disciplinary action. At the direction of the State EEO office, I have also kept notes of the occurrences, the dates they happened, and what words were exchanged, and was advised it was not an EEO matter, but that it needed to be grieved.
I strongly feel that my rights to a serene workplace environment have been challenged. Everyone in the office knows of the situation, and those that have the ability to do something about it, refuse to “get their hands dirty.” As I said, I have grieved the matter, and am scheduled for the Level III grievance. The hostile work environment I have grieved shows numerous recent occurrences with these two individuals that I haven’t done something fast enough to suit them. I am noted throughout the office for meeting or beating deadlines with strong accuracy.
In 25 years, I’ve only actually received one letter of reprimand for excessive e-mail at work. That has stopped effective of the receipt of the letter (January, 2002). This letter was to be placed in my personnel file (as well as numerous others who also received the letters). These letters are not in the personnel files, but locked in the Administrative Secretary’s file in her office. I wasn’t aware of this until I questioned it in the Level II grievance hearing.They allow more leeway with certain employees than others (as far as leave time, pay differentials, etc.) And,
I’m sorry, but I’m a good employee and I’m not going to kiss anyone’s butt to get what I deserve in the first place. The pay scales are severely whacked out according to pay grades. For example, I am a pay grade 7 (with 25 years of dedicated service), and there are at least 2 – 3 individuals that are making way over what their pay classifications would normally allow. One is a pay grade 5 (making $4,200 more than the top of her classification); and the other is a pay grade 6 (making $1,900+ over the top of her classification). And, the administrative secretary has in the past provided sexual favors to at least one previous director that I’m aware of that has boosted her salary to a pay grade 13 and nearly $3,000 over the top of her pay classification.
They are currently scrambling to justify merit increases that were given this past summer to the good old boys (because they were given without benefit of written evaluations), as well as distribution of an updated policy by the Division of Personnel dealing with workplace harassment (not necessarily sexual). NONE of this is sexual in nature. They are also working to make sure all of the secretarial staff statewide has completed position descriptions to ensure they are classified, as they should be. But, certain supervisory individuals are also prompting some of these secretaries – namely the pay grade 5 and pay grade 6 individuals – to put certain things in their job descriptions that would enable them to change their classifications to a higher allowance, and I don’t believe all that is reported by the individuals is actually the work they are now performing. It is only to allow them to be moved to a higher pay grade, and assuming so, more pay than they already receive. And I know for a fact, the pay grade 5 does not do more work than I on a daily basis, and she doesn’t possess nearly the qualifications and neither possess the length of seniority that I do.
They are undertaking this effort before my grievance has been settled to cover their bases.The agency feels that they have not violated any of my rights, or any policy, rule or regulation, but in fact they have. We are required to have yearly written evaluations that determine the basis for merit increases, but we have not had these evaluations since 1993. Merit increases are given to the “good old boys” — not whether you perform your job to the utmost expectations.I feel that either my civil rights or human rights, or some kind of right that I’m unaware of, have been violated. I am not in a position to retain an attorney, and need some kind of direction as to where or what kind of action I can take. Copies of my grievance have also been forwarded to the State Attorney General’s office, and I know from calls that I’ve made, they only deal with Civil Rights.Can you provide that direction with the information I have presented, or do you need something further?
Signed, At Wits End
Dear At Wits End:
I’ve reviewed your letter several times and spoken about it with an attorney. Let me suggest a couple of things that might help you as you continue to develop a plan of action.
1. I can understand that an attorney is not always possible or plausible. However, most attorneys will provide a free consultation–many will do so over the phone to save time. You may find that you’d like to at least talk to someone about your litigation options. I think right now you will be told that until your grievance processes have been exhausted there isn’t any civil action to be taken. There may be no civil action to take anyway. You don’t have an EEO situation and it isn’t a hostile work environment under the law. What you are more likely to have is a poorly managed work environment–and that is something that your state HR office should be involved in helping you resolve. All of us tend to think of our rights in these situations, but our protected rights only extend to a workplace free of bias or harassment based on protected issues–sex, gender, age, disability, etc. You also have protection from harassment about complaints you have made–but it is your responsibility to prove that the negative actions taken about you were solely based on that. So, it doesn’t appear that your rights have been violated. What is more likely is that personnel rules have been violated, but that would need to be handled by HR or state personnel boards. There MAY be more to it however. That is why I suggest an attorney for at least one consultation. There may be some aspect of it, particularly given your health or the status of your grievances that should be considered from a legal or civil perspective. If you do talk to an attorney–before you get involved in something that costs you money, ensure that they have thoroughly explained your options and what they think you can achieve after they work with you. I often deal with situations where someone retains an attorney who is happy to write letters and talk to them over the phone–for a fee–but who ultimately hurts them because they encourage the employee to fight everything instead of looking for solutions.
2. You say that there have been several situations in which your agency failed to comply with state requirements–such as for doing annual evaluations and basing pay on those. You also mention inappropriate inequities in salary structure. Have you considered contacting the state budget offices about this? Or, the state representatives that are on budget committees? I’m not one who likes to see things made into a scandal–but if you believe there has been serious wrongdoing in those areas, you can bet that political types would like to know about it. Keep in mind that you have a vested interest and that will be considered right away when you discuss these things. However, many a problem has been disclosed because of someone with an axe to grind about unfairness. You will need either proof of the allegations or to be certain that if an investigation is done the truth will be fairly obvious. You also need to keep in mind that the final result may only be that others lose pay, not that you gain anything.
3. Regarding the pay scale–that is a common issue in many governmental agencies, and an unfortunate one. Grades and ratings within grades can become so restrictive that it places everyone in a position of stretching job descriptions to make them fit the salary the boss wants to give a loyal, hardworking employee. If one’s boss doesn’t want to engage in that practice, the employee ends up suffering. When you contact someone about this matter you might want to push for a job audit of those positions you believe are wrongfully paid at a higher rate. It’s just a suggestion as you consider the issues–but as you can imagine, would be very unpopular with those who might lose pay. Also keep in mind that whether a salary is deserved seems to depend solely on whether you are the one getting the salary or not! I have never known anyone to say that he/she wants to give part of his or her salary back because he/she doesn’t deserve it. Nor have I ever heard anyone ask that someone else in the office get paid more than he or she because that person is working harder. We always see ourselves as fully deserving of what we get and even more. And we tend to think that others–especially those we don’t like–are undeserving. That’s just human nature, but something that sometimes gets in the way of reality and results in bitterness. Even if that isn’t the case in this situation, you want to guard against being perceived in that way.
4. I assume you’ve spoken with your own supervisor or manager about this matter or with HR. Do you have an employee’s union or organization of some kind that could help you? Is there a state board of any kind that provides assistance to employees? Perhaps you could find a strong supporter who knows the system within your agency. Even if others are trying to cause you problems, if you are doing the right things in the right ways, they will not be able to show otherwise. However, it would be good to have on the record that you feel there is a contentious situation. If you feel that lies have been told, you should ask to have that investigated and be prepared to offer evidence.
5. It sounds as though you are in a deeply rooted conflict situation. That can’t be good for your health! A priority should be to find out why there is the hostility you are feeling from some employees–and if you can do something about it, to do it.Remember that likely everyone involved will still be there in another year or two or more. So, part of your focus now must be to decide how you want to feel about work and how you want others to feel about you being there.
Is there any other area you could work in that would allow you to not be so negatively influenced by the people who seem to be causing the most problems? Could you ask for mediation of some kind? Is there any way you can avoid becoming so frustrated about this that you burn bridges? That is always my concern when people are at their wit’s end, as you say you are. I can understand your anger and frustration–I just hope you can maintain a forward-looking attitude so that you can come out of this looking as good as possible. So, my advice right now is to continue with the process you have started.
Contact other parts of the state system if you feel they can help you. Be the kind of employee that others want to support and try your best to keep a positive, confident attitude, focused on work and still contributing to your job as a member of the team. That will be difficult but will pay off in the long run. Decide what are the most important issues to you–then deal with them one at a time. Put your focus on what kind of work situation you need to feel good about work and what you need to help you do your work best from the viewpoint of both your mental and physical well being. Then, when some of the dust settles–or before then if you think you can do it–contact an attorney who specializes in employment issues and see if there are other responses you should be making. Best wishes as you deal with this challenge. Protect your health and your happiness! Getting to WEGO is worth the effort.
Tina Lewis Rowe