Thrown Up Against The Wall

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being attacked by a co-worker:

I was walking down the aisle at work when a co-worker grabbed my shirt and threw me up against the wall and asked me a question about a girl that was my friend that he also was dating. He wanted information about her and me.

I did not fight back. I went to a manager and told him of the situation. Then the manager told HR who then fired the gentleman. Two days later, HR called into their office saying that they have petitioned to have the employee come back to work.

Now everyone won’t talk to me and I’m getting stared down. I’m wondering if it’s possible for them to actually get a petition to sign to bring him back. Will that put me in a hostile work environment?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

You worry that you will be harassed if the fired coworker (let’s call him Jim), is brought back to work. The few thoughts I share with you can’t prevent Jim from being brought back or from you worrying. But they might help your worries by posing a series of questions and answers.

You were right not to fight back. You were also within your rights to report Jim throwing you against the wall to your boss. HR was also within its right to fire Jim because physical violence was not tolerated in your workplace.

Can coworkers petition for Jim to be hired back? Yes. Can they stare at you? Yes. Can you feel they don’t like you? Yes. Can Jim be rehired? Yes.

If that happens, will that put you in a hostile work environment? It depends. The words “hostile work environment” usually describe words and nonverbal discriminatory acts toward women, but can be applied to other classes of individuals. Apparently you heard those words as mistreatment in the workplace, such as bullying. If Jim is rehired, will HR tell him that mean behavior toward you or anyone at work is out of bounds? Yes. Will he follow that advice? Probably yes. Can you and Jim work in the same department without hostile words or actions? Yes. Can you mend fences? Maybe not if you both are competing for the same woman.

In light of the fact that Jim has not been rehired and that you feel stared at for reporting him, what can you do?

  1. See this as a learning situation. Think through what happened and what were your options. Was there a way to deal with the coworker without reporting that to your boss? Possibly. The answer to that question is one you might think about because it could have prevented Jim being fired. From this distance, I can’t know if there was another way than to immediately report Jim to your boss, but how else might you have responded? Learning form difficult situations is what we must do if we are to prevent anger from escalating. So I’ll not tell you what you could have done, but I will challenge you to think of options, than simply to allow Jim to push you around and to be afraid of him.
  2. See this as something likely to pass. If you focus on your assignments and cooperatively working with others in your work area, the fact that Jim is gone will pass. If you don’t allow the incident to play like a broken record in your head, it will be forgotten. If someone says something mean to you, you can ignore that. If there someone asks you about it or blames you for Jim‘s firing you can briefly say, “I thought the best thing to do was not to fight back and report it to our boss. You might have reacted differently, but now I’m just trying to do my job.”  Or you can say, “That’s past.” Or just change to subject to the task assigned. Don’t justify reporting Jim to your boss Simply say you did what you thought was best at the time. Don’t gossip about what happened.
  3. Become your own psychologist. Tell yourself that worry, worry, worry doesn’t solve a problem. The problem of physical violence at work occurred because jealousy and rivalry surfaced when and where it should not, not at work and not outside work. Having thought about ways that are non-violent, you now have language that you can use to cope with worry. I once dated a girl and when trying to drive her home from church, found my car sputtering all the way. When I took the car to the mechanic the next day, I was told that someone must have pulled a spark-plug and was asked if I had dated someone’s woman. I learned to live with competition and kept on dating her. Life is filled with upsets. We learn to be our own counselors—that troubles will pass, that differences exist, that we can live with stares.
  4. Plan your career-direction. Think about the values you’ve learn so far, what you are doing now, and what your will do in the future. Building blocks you got in your youth, Sponge-soaking up every bit of information you can find and emotional intelligence you are exposed to now, and Compass pointing out what to expect in paths you might follow. For example use your fingers to access good and great places to work—there are amazing workplaces for those who acquire needed skills. If you focus of your career direction, this incident with Jim will be just a minor learning event on your career path. Now how does the job and workplace you are in fit into your plans? What are you learning about its values, its culture, its rules, its management, its finances, its suppliers, its customers? Most of all what are you learning about working relationships? In school we learn about subject matter and grades. At work we learn about cutting wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted money and better ways to do the job.
  5. Describe good feeling moments you have—as you work-out, listen to music, help a brother, sister, parent, older person, learning something new. Life if filled with them. They add up when we are aware of them.

Enough said? Yes. These are more than enough questions and thoughts to convince you that you can cope and will survive if Jim does or doesn’t get rehired. The Workplace Doctors predict your best days will begin today and be better tomorrow.  Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Read more of our Q&As. They are lessons on what happens at work and how to deal with the unexpected.

William Gorden