Your supervisor doesn’t have to stop your mean co-worker

by Evil HR Lady on December 19, 2014

I am having an issue at work with a coworker at work that I am hoping you can help me with.  This coworker is constantly coming to assumptions that I am doing my job wrong and blaming me for things.  Most of the time she is blaming me for things that are not my fault.  After I do my research about an incident she is blaming me for I find out I am not the one to blame.  She assumes the worst in people and is constantly blaming people for things without doing her due diligence.  Her accusations and rude comments are effecting my confidence at work. I emailed her and explained my thoughts to her and she apologized.  If she continues to create a hostile environment in my workplace, what should my next be? Is HR or my supervisor obligated to take corrective action if I file a formal complaint?

I could probably just let the title to this stand alone as the answer, but, alas, that would be too easy, and heaven knows I’m long winded. First, praise for you. You took this up directly with her and even got an apology. That? Awesome. I would give you an official EHRL gold star if I had such a thing, but I don’t. If I did, though, it would go to you.

So often people don’t deal directly with the problem person and instead expect someone else to fix it. You didn’t. You took it head on and she even apologized! Amazing. Now, to be clear, you would still be deserving of the gold star even if she had exploded that you’re mean to her and blah, blah, blah. The gold star comes from your actions, not your results.

If she starts in again on the negativity and accusations, first attempt the same thing over again. Remember, she’s been trained by other people for years that behaving this way gets her the results that she wants. So, you’ll have to re-train her. “Jane, you’re doing it again. Accusing me of not doing my job when I’m absolutely doing it. If there is an error, please let me know and I’ll fix it.” Repeated doses of this should solve the problem.

But, if it doesn’t and her apology was a mere anomaly, then yes you can go to your  manager and explain what is going on and ask for help in dealing with it. Your manager may refer you to your HR department. A good employee relations person can be invaluable here in coaching not only your co-worker on how to express concern, but you in how to deal with it. But, they aren’t required to do anything by law.

You used the term “hostile environment.” To most people hostile environment means just that–an unpleasant place with a mean person. However, in HR terms, it has a legal definition. Let’s go straight to the EEOC:

The question of liability arises only after there is a determination that unlawful harassment occurred. Harassment does not violate federal law unless it involves discriminatory treatment on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age of 40 or older, disability, or protected activity under the anti-discrimination statutes. Furthermore, the anti-discrimination statutes are not a “general civility code.”4 Thus federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not “extremely serious.”5 Rather, the conduct must be “so objectively offensive as to alter the ‘conditions’ of the victim’s employment.”6The conditions of employment are altered only if the harassment culminated in a tangible employment action or was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.7 Existing Commission guidance on the standards for determining whether challenged conduct rises to the level of unlawful harassment remains in effect.

Okay, that’s boring and you skipped over it. I know you did. So, I’ll break it down. In order for there to be a true hostile environment (and a requirement for the company to act) the following must occur:

  • Harassment has to violate the law, which means your co-worker must be treating you this way because of your race, sex, etc. If she’s an equal opportunity jerk, she hasn’t broken the law.
  • It’s more than just teasing, or being rude. It has to be so severe that it affects your ability to do your job. In this case, her complaining, even if it was because she didn’t like your religion, wouldn’t be that severe. Because co-workers don’t have hire/fire power over you, it’s not normal that they can even be obnoxious enough (on their own) to create a hostile environment.
  • There is some tangible effect. For instance, she complained and lied and you got demoted.

All of these things have to come together. Since none of them did, it’s not illegal harassment. Obnoxious? Yes. Should your manager deal with it if you can’t resolve it on your own? Absolutely. Is she required by law to do so? Nope.

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How You Should Manage Depression in the Workplace

by Evil HR Lady on December 19, 2014

While holiday cheer is a great thing for many of us, some of us suffer from depression, and the holidays can be an additional stressor. “High expectations, money woes, and other holiday hazards can spell trouble for anyone, but especially those prone to depression,” according to Health.com. So, what should you do in the office? What warning signs should you look for in your employees?

I turned to Licensed Professional Counselor, Stephanie Meldrum, to help guide managers through what can be a difficult situation. She immediately set me straight: “We wouldn’t write an article helping managers look for signs of other illnesses that employees were trying to keep private. But somehow we treat depression differently, when in reality, many illnesses can impact an employee’s work performance.”

To keep reading, click here: How you should manage depression in the workplace

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Will asking for a bullying policy make me a target?

by Evil HR Lady on December 17, 2014

After a nasty episode with a Director at our organization (I am not a director so there is a power imbalance here), I am considering asking our HR department to adopt a workplace bullying policy similar to the one SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) has in their archives of samples and templates.

I reviewed our employee manual and I saw that only legal, protected classes and categories are actionable by our organization — race, disability, gender, nationality, etc. There is no existing policy on bullying and uncivil behavior in general.

My question: will I be potentially seen as a troublemaker for daring to propose something like this? Will I be seen as the bad person despite the Director’s unnecessarily bullying and acrimonious behavior towards me? How best to proceed in this type of matter for an employee?

First, while bullying is very bad and should not be tolerated by any company, I’m always hesitant when someone says they are being bullied. You had “one episode” which probably wouldn’t qualify as bullying. Bullying is often defined as some using power or force to get you to do something. By the very nature of hierarchical business, a director asking you to do anything is exerting power over you, but it’s not bullying. I say this because a policy, while probably a good thing, may or may not help solve your problem.

But, that’s not your question. Your question is what will happen to you and your reputation if you bring this to HR’s attention? Now, of course, the answer to this is dependent on what type of HR department you have and how you wish to proceed. If you have a rational HR department, then suggesting you update the policy to bring it to SHRM standards should be no big deal.

If you have an irrational HR department, all bets are off. But, let’s assume rationality. So, here is what might happen.

1. You send an email to the HR business partner over your area. “Jane, I noticed that our bullying policy only prohibits bad behavior based on race, gender, etc. I know that SHRM recommends a broader policy. Is it possible to have our policy updated?”

2. Jane replies, “Thanks! I’ll look into it.”

3. You never hear from Jane again.

This is not because Jane is a bad person. It is not because Jane doesn’t agree with you. It is because, if this is a large organization, Jane’s job isn’t to develop policy. She can make a suggestion, but unless she really gets behind the cause it’s unlikely to go anywhere. If it’s a small organization, with a small HR department, Jane probably has 300 things on her plate and revising a policy is probably last on her list of things to do today.

Now, you can go to step 4, which is to follow up with Jane. If she starts to think it’s a really good idea, you might get somewhere. But if not? The end. But no harm is done to you or your reputation. You haven’t asked for something absurd and you haven’t been a jerk about it. (Bully the HR person in order to get an anti-bullying program is never a good idea.)

So, let’s try another option.

1. You send an email to the HR business partner over your area. “Jane, I wanted to tell you about a run-in I had with Director Steve. Steve wanted X done and when I tried to explain that we wouldn’t have the necessary data until Tuesday he screamed at me and threatened to write me up and questioned my parentage. I thought this ran afoul of our bullying policy, but when I double checked I learned that we have no policy prohibiting his behavior unless he was screaming at me because of my race or other immutable characteristics. I’d like to see our policy expanded to cover all inappropriate situations. Can you help?”

2. Jane replies, “Oh dear. Really? Steve did that? Well, that’s normal Steve. Just try to ignore him.” Because remember, you’ve acknowledged that his behavior isn’t against policy and (this next part is really important) HR isn’t independent. Jane has to deal with Steve too. And, in many cases, Steve is further up the hierarchy than Jane is.

3. You never hear from Jan again.

This is very common in this type of situations, because even though Jane would like to eliminate the bully director Steve, she’s seen his performance appraisal and the numbers for his department and he brings in results. If she brings this to Steve’s boss, it’s likely you’ll be blamed. Jane knows this, so she lets it go nowhere. If Steve is a low performer you have more of a chance.

Or

3. (Alternate universe). Jane conducts an investigation and learns that Steve is a constant jerk. She speaks with Steve’s boss, who fires Steve and harmony is restored to the universe. But that policy? Not likely to get written. I mean, it can happen, but it’s not high on anybody’s list or it would already be policy.

So, is there any hope?

Of course! But, you need to go around HR (or get to the most senior HR person) and get a champion from a senior staff member who can make it Jane’s job to worry about this policy. If you know somebody in power who would be on your side, you can start there, recommending the new policy. Volunteer to do some of the legwork involved and get yourself assigned to a team (probably headed by Jane) that is focused on revising such policies.

What you have to be careful about is that you need to project that you’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do  and not because Steve was mean to you. Like it or not, the latter will be seen as whining while the former will be seen as altruism.

To make a long story short (too late!) the chances of you suffering because of this are pretty slim as long as you present it as the right thing for the company to do and not as revenge on Steve. Just don’t expect quick results. Also, don’t expect that Steve will even think what he did would violate the new policy. He probably sees himself as being direct.

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5 Ways to Maximize Productivity During the Holidays

by Evil HR Lady on December 16, 2014

While on the one hand, December can be an extremely productive month when you consider all aspects of your life, it can be a complete drag at work because you’re doing so much shopping, cooking, and party organizing outside of work. This can make you tired and tempted to slack off at work. Unfortunately, though, that’s not great for business. What can you do to maximize your productivity, even when jingle bells are ringing?

Laura Stack, the “Productivity Pro” has 5 suggestions for keeping productivity high when time and energy is low.

To read Laura’s tips, click here: 5 Ways to Maximize Productivity During the Holidays

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Getting into a fight with your boss

by Evil HR Lady on December 16, 2014

My employer and I got into an argument because he accused me and another employee of being nonproductive. At the end of the day, he called me into the office and asked me why do I follow behind people etc…. He was acting unlike himself. I said if you don’t like the way I work fire me he said OK your fired don’t return tomorrow. I said OK he then followed me calling me back into the office saying I’m a good employee, but he is going to be cracking down on everybody. I walked out he pushed me I screamed and cried. He said I pushed you out of love to make you better. He said I can keep my job or sue if I think I’ll get anything out of it.

I got this email and responded:

I don’t know what you want me to say. Both of you were being stupid. There’s nothing to sue for. If he really pushed you, you could file assault charges, but since no damages occurred, there’s no civil lawsuit.

The author responded:

I was being stupid for working my butt off for a company then being assaulted. Charges were found thanks for your advice you get pushed by a male employer and get called stupid. You’re hilarious. Thanks!!!!!

I replied:

Good for filing assault charges, but yes, you were being stupid. You don’t say, “If you don’t like the way I work fire me.” That’s a really dumb thing to say if you don’t want to be fired.

I absolutely believe in filing assault charges and I’m glad you did.
And the response:
Your evil for sure. Not sure why people seek your advice ….

Well, that requires a response and I thought I’d share here. I admit, my original answer was not warm and fuzzy and was not heavy on details. But, when you have a screaming argument with the boss where you dare him to fire you, and you get shoved, the relationship is finished. It’s not something that’s going to be easily fixed. I’m actually thrilled that the letter writer called the police about the pushing because physical violence doesn’t belong in the office (or anywhere). But, other than the assault charges, it doesn’t appear to me to be any employment related law problem. You said, “if you don’t like the way I work fire me” and the boss did.

I blame television. We see shows where there’s a rogue person (often a cop) who is always causing problems and the boss always gets angry, but in the end, this rogue employee captures the bad guy or lands the client or whatever and everybody is thrilled. It’s like the adult version of Curious George. (Oh, George! You’ve done this horrible thing, but you made little Sally smile! We love you George!) But, real life doesn’t work that way. Once threats are made, the relationship has been damaged, and most likely permanently.

Now, this boss is a world class jerk. Pushing someone to “make them better” is a horrible thing to do. You don’t accuse someone of poor performance in order to increase their performance, when they were doing great to begin with. People don’t respond well to this (see above). You reward and encourage your top performers. You don’t yell and scream.

If you’re in that situation, you need to remain calm and ask what it is that you need to improve on. If it’s the boss’s latest “trick” to push you, it will fall apart at that point. If you actually need to improve, listening will help you. Screaming back will not help you.

Now, some people will say that you should go to HR or to the Boss’s boss when something like this happens rather than call the police. From a business standpoint, that makes sense, because the business would love to protect its reputation. And no matter what type of business you do, having police cars show up to a reported assault is not good for business and might even get picked up by the local paper. So, the big boss and HR would love to deal with office violence internally. I, on the other hand, think that someone who assaults someone else doesn’t deserve any respect or deference to help the business. Call the police immediately.

That said, if it’s a mild shove (which I am guessing this was, since the letter writer didn’t describe anything horrible). it may not rise to the level of assault (remember, I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on the internet), and shouldn’t be brought to the attention of the police. I wasn’t there, so I can’t judge. The letter writer indicates that charges were filed, so it may have been a serious shove.
But, the big takeaway here? When your boss is being stupid, don’t be stupid back. It only  makes things worse. And that bit of advice is why people write me.

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Rand and Janeel Smith always wanted to run their own business, but it took a bit of time to get there, as they were a bit busy–raising their 8 children. Now that 7 of the 8 are out of the house (and have provided the Smith’s with 15 grandkids, and one more on the way), they have a bit of time to invest in their business, an optical shop in Kansas City, Missouri, called eyeSmith.

What having 8 kids will teach you

“We told all our kids to pray real hard that it works because if it didn’t they were our retirement policy,” Janeel said, “We’ll live with each one 6 weeks per year. Scott (one of their sons) replied, ‘That’s fine mom, as long as you do it only two weeks at a time!'” The children can lower their panic level a little as business has grown 40 percent in the last year. If things continue, mom and dad won’t be showing up on their doorsteps anytime soon.

To keep reading, click here: The Very Best Preparation For Business Ownership–Raising 8 Kids

(Note: The picture is of the Smiths and their grandkids, in case you were counting!)

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How Employers Do Employment Background Checks

by Evil HR Lady on December 15, 2014

I have a great job opportunity that I have applied for and the job is basically mine. My main concern is that I have to be fingerprinted. I have some charges that stem from 17-25 years ago. I have never been denied employment because of my infractions. I have never lied on my application and have always been forthcoming.

I am up for a director position this time; in the past, I had managerial positions and it still was not a problem. However, I have never been fingerprinted before. The incidents are completely unrelated to the business. Can you provide some insight about what my chances may be?

To read the answer, click here: How Employers Do Employment Background Checks

(Note: This is a new site, About Human Resources. If you want to keep my new employers happy, click on the link!)

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n a 9-0 Supreme Court ruled that Amazon wasn’t required to pay their employees for the time spent in a post-shift security line because it wasn’t a “principal activity.” In other words, if the security checks stopped, their jobs would remain the same.

With a 9-0 decision, it’s clear that this is the law. But, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. This wasn’t a decision that hinged on the constitution, but rather on statute. Congress can change this if they wish. Regardless, you should not be doing a happy dance and say, “Woo-hoo! Now I canpay my employees less!” Here’s why.

To read the reasons why, click here: Amazon Won Big at the Supreme Court. Here’s Why You Shoudn’t Follow Its Example

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Can they fire my husband?

by Evil HR Lady on December 11, 2014

My husband has been working for a Drug Store chain for over 50 years. He’s in his late 60s. He is the Assistant Manager. He is a very hard worker, he is ALWAYS on time. (Always early), never calls in sick, & even goes in on days off sometimes to do the banking for the manager & fixes any other problems she might have when needed. A new supervisor has just been appointed & I think wants him out. (This man even recently told him he couldn’t take off for my dad’s funeral). He told my husband he wants to transfer him out to work in 2 stores (1 is about 40 minutes from our home) doing overnight shifts or he would be out of a job. Can the supervisor fire him if doesn’t accept this position since he was never hired for overnight hours & if so can he collect unemployment? He needs to work one more year until we’re both eligible for Medicare.

 Evil HR Lady’s rule of firing is that they can fire any person at any time for any reason as long as the termination isn’t expressly prohibited by law. So, you can fire a black, gay, pregnant immigrant, age 42, but you can’t fire her because she’s black, pregnant, an immigrant or 42. In some states, you can’t fire her because she’s gay either, but in some you can. Most companies, though, have strict policies regarding termination. These most often include a requirement for performance improvement plans, coaching, and bending over backwards to try to solve the problem.

So, can this new supervisor fire your husband? Absolutely. But I suspect his bosses and HR won’t let him. As a result, he’s attempting to make your husband’s job so miserable that he’ll quit. Now, there’s a term for this called “constructive discharge” which means that the conditions were so horrible that any rational person would quit. However, being transferred to a store 40 minutes away and working the night shift won’t qualify under that, as plenty of people work under such conditions. (For 9 years, I commuted an hour to work, each way, and I’m not at all unusual.)

First of all, the rest of my answer assumes the following:

1. Your husband is still a good performer.

2. The “supervisor” is a district manager of sorts who has power over the store manager.

3. The supervisor’s name is Jim.

If any of those are false, all bets are off.

Your husband’s first step is to talk to his store manager. The conversation should go something like this, “Jim wants to transfer me and put me on nights. Have I done something wrong?” Take notes as the manager answers this questions. if the answer is yes, then ask the manager to list the problems. If the answer is no, then ask, “Do you know why he wants to transfer me?” Write down whatever he says. If the answer is “Jim thinks you’re too old,” well, then there’s your answer.

If the answer was yes, and he now has his list of things to do, he should next go to Jim, and say, “I understand that you are concerned with a, b, and c. Can we speak about what I need to do to correct these? I have been doing this job for a long time, very successfully, and it seems like a punishment to be transferred to a new store and an overnight shift for things that I can easily correct.”

Now, you’ll note that I said my answer hinged on the fact that your husband is a good performer, in which case, these things are going to be inconsequential and will most likely be “pretexts” for the real problem, which I suspect is age. So, after having attempted to address these things, if the supervisor still wants a nasty transfer, it’s time to pull out the big guns. The age discrimination complaint. You can (and probably should) hire an attorney for this. If you want to hire an attorney, you need an employment attorney, not the guy who did your wills. You can find one in your area by going to www.nela.org. (I should totally get a kickback from them!)

But, if you want to go this alone, write up all the problems and the ridiculous transfer request and title this: “Official Complaint of Age Discrimination.” This is a little trick from Employment attorney Donna Ballman and it’s awesome. Why? Because it doesn’t mince words. There is no way anyone who receives this can say, “Well, he wasn’t really complaining about age discrimination.” Don’t write, “I think maybe Jim doesn’t like me here because I’m old.” That’s way too soft. Document everything. Who does he want to put into your husband’s current role? I’m betting it’s not someone in his 70s.

Send this official complaint to Human Resources. This will freak them the heck out and should solve the problem, assuming the problem is with Jim and not your husband. If the problem is with your husband (he won’t learn new software, he is slacking off at work, he can’t keep up with the younger crew), all bets are off. Because you can fire someone in their mid-60s, you just can’t fire someone because they are over 60. (Unless you’re in an industry with mandatory retirement, but that’s irrelevant here.)

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Good office parties are great. Bad ones? Well, they are more fun to read about. Here are some holiday party nightmares from Inc.com readers. Make sure to share your story in the comments:

The one with the live fish

“We no longer have Christmas white elephants because, well, about two years ago someone brought a live beta fish wrapped up as a gift and, of course, playing Yankee swap (or whatever you want to call it), everyone picked all the gifts up and shook them before picking one to open and there was a poor fish in there the whole time. I felt bad for the coworker who ended up with the fish because he then had to take it home and buy a fish tank (it was wrapped in the plastic cup it came in from the store) and all the stuff to take care of it. But it’s still alive. His kids love it. I would not have loved that. That was the same year our boss threw a fit because someone got a better gift than he did and he should get the gift because, his catch phrase, “Imma boss!” He then made that person switch gifts with him.”

To keep reading, click here: Miffed Bosses, Missing Bras, and Other Holiday Party Disasters

And thanks for your great stories!

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