Unfair Discipline

by Evil HR Lady on July 14, 2008

I was issued a written warning for failure to use the proper channels to report a complaint, referencing a policy from the handbook. This stems from a private conversation I had with another manager regarding how my boss/hostile environment is making me sick.

The other manager was concerned and reported to HR (or as some would say “threw me under the bus”). When I read the policy, I found that there was a paragraph that stated ‘if you do not feel comfortable talking with your direct supervisor, you can talk with any other member of management’, which I did.

I told the HR lady and my boss that i was not making a complaint and later emailed my comments and asked that the warning be revoked because it had not been violated. No response. I have been with the company for 12 years and have always received good performance reviews and have never experienced anything like this. I am sick over this. Our workplace is very dysfunctional and policies are broken every day without discipline (including harassment, safety violations, etc.).

The injustice of it all is what really bothers me. Can an employer just pick out one employee and one policy and decide to enforce it? I am under the care of several therapists and a doc and need to be medicated to go to work. I am feverishly looking for another job, but am sure that it will create a financial burden to my family. Thanks for any help you can provide.

You are clearly upset over this incident, but if nothing else was said, it is possible that the HR lady realizes she made a mistake and is too embarrassed to admit it to you, so she’s ignoring it, hoping it will go away.

Or she has 112 unread messages in her inbox and hasn’t gotten to yours yet.

Or she’s a complete idiot who writes someone up for making a complaint according to the company’s established procedures.

Take your pick.

I’m glad you are looking for a new job, because you aren’t happy at this one. But, you aren’t going to find a better one until you calm down and process what happened. Were there consequences to you, other than the write up in your file? Demotion, bad assignments, or something similar? I ask because this doesn’t seem, in and of itself, something to be so horrified at that you are sick over it. This fear and panic are going to come across in your job interviews and it may prevent you from getting a good job. There ARE good jobs available. Being positive will help you in your search.

You also need to come up with an answer to the “why are you looking for a new job?” question that doesn’t involve any of this. It needs to be an accurate answer, but without being negative towards your current company.

Now, the above was the answer to the question you didn’t ask. Here’s the answer to the question you did ask: Companies should apply their policies fairly across the board. No one should ever be punished for bringing a legitimate complaint to management. It should always be perfectly acceptable to approach a member of a management team with your concerns.

My advice to you is to make an appointment with your boss to apologize for not speaking with her first, and to ask what you can do to help resolve the issue. I realize you were acting within policy when you went to another manager. I realize you did nothing wrong. I also realize that you are miserable and if something doesn’t change you will continue to be miserable and it will affect your ability to find a new job. Be willing to work with your boss to find a solution.

For future reference, except in the rarest of rare circumstances, you should go to your boss first. Sidestepping her can cause animosity to rise from the boss. You should only go to someone else if you have attempted to resolve the issue with your boss. Remember also that even if you go to happy hour with this management team member you spoke to, it’s still business. When you are with people you work with, you are absolutely at work, regardless of the setting.

I don’t know what your complaint was about, but if it was something involving safety, harassment, or an illegal practice, this manager was required to act. You can’t come up to me and say, “Hey Evil HR Lady, the funniest thing happened on the factory floor yesterday. Karen and Steve were having a water gun fight!” and not expect me to act on it.

Now some of you are shaking your heads and wondering why on earth I’d care about a harmless water fight. Well, water on the floor could be a safety hazard–hello, OSHA violation. Depending on the product it could cause contamination and be an FDA violation. Do you want to have product fail? Me neither. Perhaps neither did the manager you confided in.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Leroy Grinchy July 14, 2008 at 3:33 pm

I just want to say, “Good luck with the job search.”

As usual, the advice is spot on.

Also, I wanted to thank-you for posting this because it raises an issue that I need to keep clear in my own mind.

I believe an employer _can_ pick and choose who gets dinged with enforcing the policy. Why? Because as workers we have no authority to question whether they are enforcing regulations for all people. It’s not my role, and I don’t want it to be my role.

So I have to follow all the policy–within reason–even if other are “getting away with” not following it.

Why? Peace of mind. While the other mice are playing, I’m keeping track of the policy so I don’t have to worry about anything that comes to bite me later. I can honestly say, I was doing my job properly.

I know that this is not always realistic, but I try to follow policy as much as humanly possible for my own mental well being.

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Ask a Manager July 14, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Leroy, I think that’s a good way for employees to look at it, definitely. At the same time, though, employers need to be careful in this area, because if enforcing a policy with some people but not with others can give rise to discrimination claims, if the people getting dinged happen to be in a protected class (based on race, gender, religion, etc.). As a result, it’s often safer for managers to just enforce everything across the board.

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HR Godess July 14, 2008 at 7:22 pm

I’m not a big proponent of “different rules for different people”. I’m one that thinks the rules should be enforced uniformly. And, if I was the only one allowed to enforce the rules, I could ensure that happens. Since I have to depend on managers to do the same, that doesn’t always happen.

I, like EHRL, think there may be more to this story.

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HRPain July 14, 2008 at 8:10 pm

I hate it when employees feel their conversations are “off the record.” This is why HR should technically be one of the loneliest jobs a person could choose.

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MsPinkSlip July 14, 2008 at 10:39 pm

If this employee has used FMLA for her medical condition, this could also be construed as retaliation. Wave that in their face. Of course I tend to be a rebel but I would fight fire with fire.

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Anonymous July 15, 2008 at 6:04 pm

Unless your boss is in HR, I tend to find it inappropriate to go to another manager about your manager. EVEN IF POLICY SAYS YOU MAY. HR’s job is to be unbiased, and most of us do our best to keep our opinions out of the mix. If someone else’s staff member came to me, claiming that their boss/hostile environment was making them sick, and that they were under the care of several therapists, I, too, would report them to HR. Why? It’s interfering with their work, my work, and the work of others. Complaining to another manager, and raising a concern/asking for advice are two different things. My advice: take your memo, your handbook, and go back to the HR person who signed off on it. Sit down with them and ask for clarification and how you should handle such situations in the future and find a solution for your current hostile situation.

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Anonymous November 8, 2012 at 6:37 pm

So who do you go to if your Manager is the head of HR?

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Seeker July 15, 2008 at 7:26 pm

The cold, hard and miserable truth is that life just ain’t fair, and that applies to relationships with your boss, the much-despised HR department, and every other aspect of your life. Getting sick over a complaint means there is far more going on than just this issue…what is the rest of the story?

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Dwain July 16, 2008 at 2:23 pm

After I read this, I get the impression that the person was probably just talking to the manager in an “unofficial” setting or having a casual conversation regarding her situation. However, as stated before Managers have a responsibility, especially in a hostile work environment threat as this person is making, to go to HR.

I don’t see it as a policy violation. I think that the manager that this person complained to should have told her that she would keep it confidential as much as she could. That really isn’t how I meant to say it, just having trouble with words. Tell the employee that this needs to be brought to the attention of HR and that either the employee needs to go talk to them or she will have to go talk to them. As with all complaints we cannot “guarantee” 100% confidentiality. We have to bring others into the conversation and they will soon find out what the complaint is all about. You can’t come and complain to HR about your boss and then expect HR not to tell your boss about it. The Manager needs to be trained on how to handle these types of conversations. This simple conversation would have headed this off way before it became an issue.

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Anonymous July 17, 2008 at 3:30 pm

You’re working for a bully. His bosses are unwilling/unable to deal with him.

The emotional assault is making you physically sick and destroying your confidence in your training, skills, and experience.

Leave.

Resign, take your remaining sick/holiday time, go on unemployment, use up your savings. get financial help from family- whatever.

Leave.

Refocus on the skills and experience you had before your started working for this person and regain your footing. Update your skille, learn a new language, study something outside your field- whatever. Add this to your resume.

When you’re back on your feet (and not before- interviewers can read neediness and don’t like it) and start applying for other jobs, when they ask you why you left your previous employer just say, ‘I felt I was getting stale and decided to take some time to refresh and learn something new”.

It’s time to grab control of your present and design your future. It’s not with this company.

Lois Gory

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Anonymous July 17, 2008 at 5:14 pm

I disagree with Lois. It’s a big risk to leave a job without another lined up. If I see someone who has gaps in their work history and a current gap, with no reference to it in a cover letter, I don’t waste my time even calling them. I always always tell people to avoid this if at all possible. If you’re really sick, take disability, FMLA, whatever you need to do to get well. But quitting your job without something else lined up is a huge risk – especially in this market.

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Anonymous July 18, 2008 at 2:01 am

I agree with you. I meant any arrangement to cover sick leave-disability, FMLA if possible- when I said sick time, but the poster won’t recover unless he/she leaves that office.

I also agree that an unexplained gap raises an eyebrow. His/her covering letter should mention the recent classes.

‘Getting stale and decided to take some time to refresh and learn something new’

This is the only thing that needs to be said. No one wants to hear’ they were so unfair!’ no matter how unfair they were.

Step back, rework your skills and resume, step forward.

Lois

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Dwain July 18, 2008 at 1:16 pm

So, besides the write up, did her supervisor’s attitude get worse towards her, or has the office environment gotten worse/better?

Also, was the “hostile environment” related to sexual harassment or any other type of claim. Or is this employee just being hyper-sensitive about things? I think we are jumping on the Manager just a little too quickly. I will reiterate the fact that I don’t think she violated any policies and therefore shouldn’t have been written up. However, we don’t know enough about the situation to side completely with the employee regarding the work environment. THe Manager may not be doing anything “illegal” but might just be a big pain the hind end to work for. If that is the case, then looking for a new department or new employer is the way to go. If the hostile work environment is created due to some illegal reason, then continue to push HR to act and if they don’t or if the behavior continues/worsens. Then seek legal guidance on your rights. This could be construed as retaliation or constructive discharge.

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Anonymous July 19, 2008 at 12:30 am

Were it me, I would consider that as a leadup to firing–in a well run company, it starts with that sort of note. And I would place a note in the file as a response, to cover myself.

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Tim C September 18, 2010 at 2:43 am

This is a typical example where the boss has some insecurities. Good leaders will accept responsibility, managers place blame. The nex time a violation is observered or a new idea emergest, she will be reluctant to volunteer anything. Effective communication is hanicapped. Being punished also effectively places a wedge of animosity between her and management. No one should be punished for factual reporting and discussion.

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