Dear Evil HR Lady,
I recently openly criticized the “head honcho” of my company. Amongst 3 or 4 co-workers, I let it be known that that I was growing tired of the consistent homophobic, sexist and racist remarks that the boss makes during company meetings. Of course, my comments made their way back to the boss.
A few days later, I went and had a very honest, forthright and civil discussion with him. I stood by my statement, but assured him that I had no intention of going to HR with these concerns. At this point, I concluded that everything was back to normal. I was wrong.
After 2 years with the company, and not having received one single complaint about my work ethic or abilities, I am suddenly under the microscope. Every move I make or task that I take on are being closely monitored. Petty mistakes are now a major ordeal. My immediate supervisors are constantly inquiring about my whereabouts and activities. It almost seems that they are building a case and getting ready to fire me. Today, I finally brought the situation to HR’s attention. Now crap has really hit the fan.
It was only 3 months ago that my employer told me I was due for a raise on the basis of good work and not ever having heard a complaint about me. I never got the raise, by the way. To summarize: I criticized the most powerful person in the building for inappropriate behavior. 2 years of good work has now been wiped off the table by my employer and everything I do is under scrutiny. Coincidence? I think not.
What’s my next best move? Thanks for your time.
Okay, you made 2 mistakes.
1. Talking about this with co-workers
2. Promising not to say anything to HR
So, let’s fix this. (Which may or may not be possible at this point.)
First, unless you are in a state (or city) where sexual orientation is a protected class, you’re going to have to let the “homophobic” stuff go. The courts are slowly moving to make that illegal under gender discrimination laws anyway, but I wouldn’t count on it, nor base your case on this.
But, discrimination based on race or gender are illegal. Because this is the site head, you can probably make a case that his statements are creating a hostile environment, even if you haven’t specifically suffered harm because of it. You’ll have a harder time if he’s complaining about Hispanic women and you’re neither Hispanic nor a woman, but that may or may not be relevant.
At this point, you may also wish to engage your own attorney. www.nela.org can give you a referral in your area. It will cost you. You can also file a complaint with the EEOC, but I have no idea what they’ll do with it. They are free, but selective in what they do. If you do hire an attorney, please listen to what your attorney says. And please don’t hire your next door neighbor who is a really nice guy who practices family law. If you want to get divorced, call him. If you’re dealing with an employment issue, call an employment lawyer. Please. I beg you.
If you want to go this alone (totally understandably, lawyers cost money and employment lawsuits don’t usually result in huge windfalls), here’s what you do:
You want to write up everything that happened. Dates, times, with whom you spoke, etc. Email it to the appropriate off-site HR person (if there is a corporate office, I’m not clear if this guy is the president of the company or just the site director) with the following subject line: Official complaint of racial and sexual discrimination and retaliation. Do not, under any circumstances, soften that. You want to make it CLEAR that this is what you are complaining about. This is because HR has to investigate an official complaint and you have to give them time to fix the problem. When you’ve stated that this an official complaint of racism/sexism they can’t pretend that you were annoyed about something else.
And why send it to the off-site HR person? Because HR is never the boss and they are never completely independent. Site HR may have a hard line reporting relationship to corporate HR, but they have a dotted line reporting relationship to the site head. Guaranteed. Your local HR person reports in to the boss you are accusing of sexist/racist behavior and she’s concerned about her job. It shouldn’t affect how she handles this, but it could. If this is the president of the company, well, good luck.
Make sure you document how it has gotten worse since complaining. That’s retaliation. This is also illegal.
Also, copy your home email on the email you send to HR, so that you have a date and time stamp of when you sent it.
If you don’t already have copies of your good performance appraisals, try to procure them now and store them at home. You will need these if you get fired. Forward any emails from people praising your work to your home email as well. (Unless your company has a policy against emailing things outside the company. Then check your handbook to see what you’re allowed to do. You’d hate to go through all this and get fired for emailing yourself a document that said you are awesome.)
Last, and most importantly, start looking for a new job. I know, it’s unfair that this guy might win. But, here’s the thing: What is best for you? A job without a racist/sexist boss. What’s the easiest way to get one of those? To look while you still have a job. Once you’ve been fired (which may happen) you’ll have a much more difficult time.