Archive | December 2013

Workplace Q & A: Part 4

Q: Now that I’ve signed a release, can I still sue?

“When I was terminated from my prior job, I signed a release in return for three months of severance pay. Upon reflection, I believe I was wrongfully terminated because of my race. Can I now sue?”

A: Probably not.

A release is a binding contract. In all likelihood, the release contained a provision in which you gave up all your rights to sue your former employer for anything that took place before you signed.

There are two exceptions. First, you were forced to sign the contract under duress. And second, you signed under false pretenses. Let’s say your company gave you the release right when you were informed of your termination, and told you that you’d lose your severance pay if you didn’t sign it immediately, before you had a chance to see a lawyer. That would count as signing under duress. Or let’s say that the company gave you the release and told you “It’s just routine paperwork. It doesn’t have any significance.” That would be signing under false pretenses.

Keep in mind that if the company defamed you or took some other illegal action after you signed the release, you can sue for these actions.

In addition, signing a release doesn’t prohibit you from serving as a witness in a lawsuit that someone else brought against the company. Nor does signing a release prevent you from complaining to a government agency about the company’s illegal behavior. For example, you could complain to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) that your company routinely hired African Americans and then fired them after six months. What you can’t do is collect personal damages for such a practice.

Q: Can I be fired for not reporting a co-worker’s misconduct?

“A few months ago, one of my co-workers confessed to me that he was cheating on his time cards. He said that he was regularly claiming overtime hours that he never put in. I told him that it was a big mistake and that he could get caught. I never helped him cheat and I never did it myself. Still, I decided not to report him.  Last week, he was caught. When the company confronted him, he said that I knew all about it. The company then informed me that I was just as guilty as he was, and I was fired. Can the company do this?”

A: Probably yes.

A company is allowed to require employees to report serious wrongdoing. Of course, employees rarely rat on other employees. So, while your company could have such a rule, it’s quite likely that the rule was not uniformly enforced. What’s more, your punishment seems especially harsh, since you didn’t help or encourage your co-worker to misreport his hours. Your company may very well have wanted to see you gone and your breaking the rule presented an opportunity to make it happen.

If you think you were treated more severely than others in your situation because of your race, sex or age, then you would have a legal basis to complain. The problem is finding out who else knew of wrongdoing and failed to report it, and what punishment they received.

Workplace-Q-and-A

Q: If I don’t want a free gym membership, don’t I deserve a benefit of comparable value?

“My company provides a free gym membership to any employee who wants to take advantage of this benefit. A membership is worth about $500 in annual dues. The company doesn’t provide any comparable benefits to employees who are uninterested in joining. Don’t I deserve $500 in cash or some other comparable benefit?”

A: No.

Your company has decided that it is in its interest to have employees get in shape. The company does not require employees to sign up, but the offer of free membership certainly encourages it. Your company has no obligation to offer you another benefit of equal value if you don’t want to take advantage of the free gym membership.

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This post contains numerous questions describing common recurring problems in the workplace. The circumstances described in these questions, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.

Krugman, High Unemployment and the Bad Boss

In a recent New York Times Op Ed, Paul Krugman explains why a high rate of unemployment can make it rough for many employed workers, too. If there aren’t any other good jobs available, quitting your current job to look for better work just isn’t an option. Simply put, you may be stuck in a job you hate.

You may want to quit your job because you don’t like the work, or the pay is too low, or the hours are too long, or the commute is intolerable. But, in all likelihood, the number one reason you hate your job is because you have a bad boss.

And that’s where the other unintended spillover effect of high unemployment comes into play. Your boss can be abusive to you and get away with it. Even if he was a bad boss when alternative jobs were plentiful, he can be a worse boss now that they’re scarce.

Bad bosses are bad in subtle ways

Sure, if your boss is abusive in an obvious, illegal way, you might quit even if no job is waiting. But most bad bosses are bad in subtle ways. A bad boss can give you conflicting instructions. He can ignore you. He can embarrass you. He can take credit for your work. He can rate your performance unfairly. He can undermine you. The ways of a bad boss are endless.

It’s not just that the bad boss knows that you’re stuck, or that if you leave, you’ll be easily replaceable. When the unemployment rate is high but your company is doing well, it has little motivation to rein in your bad boss, to monitor him, to discipline him, or to replace him. A high unemployment rate confers even more power to your bad boss.

Why not complain to Human Resources?

So if your boss is bad, can’t you complain to Human Resources? The plain fact is that most HR professionals are squarely on the side of the boss. Even if your HR representative agrees that your boss is bad, he will gain the ire of senior management if he upsets the balance of power. In fact, the higher the unemployment rate, the more that your company’s HR reps will align with management. After all, they’re employees, just like you. And they’re stuck, too.

If you have a bad boss, what can you do?

If you’re an employee with a bad boss, and quitting is not an option, what can you do? The short answer is: you must protect yourself.

First, you must understand your legal rights. Some actions of your boss are just bad management, which is not illegal in itself. But other actions may be illegal. You need to know the difference so that you can frame your case correctly.

Second, you need to observe how your boss treats your co-workers. You need to look for patterns of abusive behavior toward many employees. Going one step further, you need to look for company policies that promote or tolerate your bad boss’ misconduct. That way, your problems cannot be blamed on you.

Finally, once you’ve gathered the evidence that points the finger at your bad boss, and not at you, it’s time to persuade someone at the top to correct the situation. You can convince someone higher up if you have facts, not just feelings or opinions. Facts are powerful. Multiple concrete examples of abusive conduct directed at many subordinates are powerful.

Whether the unemployment rate is high or low, your company doesn’t want to risk damage to its reputation, and it doesn’t want legal problems. Your company will act against a bad boss if it perceives a major risk in failing to act.

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Workplace Q & A: Part 3

Q: How does my bullying boss manage to turn his abusive personality on and off?

“My boss at work is a bully. He has poor management skills. He uses his superior position to intimidate his subordinates into doing what he wants. He sets unrealistic goals. He is hostile in his demeanor. Fortunately, I basically work on my own, so he doesn’t have many opportunities to push my hot buttons. Still, there’s one thing that puzzles me. He is a well-respected professional in his field. Others have told me how lucky I am to work for him. How can such a bully turn his abusive personality on and off like that?”

A: Easily.

It is not at all uncommon for someone to treat different people differently. Perhaps your boss is sure of himself when he is interacting with his peers in his area of specialization, but he is insecure when he is acting as a manager. He could derive great satisfaction from pushing around people who are less senior than he is, but be afraid of people in positions of power over him. There is an infinite variety of reasons why he could display this personality dynamic.

So long as he doesn’t bother you and you can get your work done, I would forget about it. Chalk it up to the mysteries of human personality.

 Q: Can my manager make me take on a double workload?

“My co-worker is going on maternity leave for four months. My manager told me today that I would be responsible for picking up her duties. Although our work is similar to mine and I could do her job, I don’t want to work up to 80 hours each week for four months. Can my manager make me do this?”

A: To a degree, yes.

It is common for employers to ask employees to cover for absent workers, but the request must be within reason. For example, requesting a few extra hours a week would be reasonable. Training a temporary replacement would be reasonable. Keeping track of projects that need to be done when your co-worker returns would be reasonable. However, telling an employee he needs to work 80 hours each week would not.

The problem is: What is your remedy? Unless the manager is singling you out because of your race, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability, it is hard to see on what basis you could complain. Bad management by itself is not illegal.

The best course of action is to come up with a more equitable, workable plan to cover your absent co-worker and see if you can get your manger to agree to it.

Workplace-Q-and-A

 Q: Can I be denied a job for using medical marijuana?

“I had cancer a couple of years ago and I still use medical marijuana to ease the residual pain and other side effects of my treatment. I was offered a job and I mentioned my use of medical marijuana to the recruiter. I live and work in a state where medical marijuana use is not illegal. The recruiter commented that I could still be denied the job if pre-employment drug testing detected marijuana. When I told the recruiter that I had a doctor’s prescription, she said it didn’t matter. Are the recruiter’s comments correct?”

 A: The short answer is yes.

Although medical use of marijuana is not illegal in some states, employers in those states can still refuse to hire an employee if drug testing detects marijuana. The prospective employer may still have concerns about the effect of marijuana on the employee’s ability to perform certain tasks. This problem could be resolved by federal legislation protecting employees who use marijuana for medical purposes.

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This post contains numerous questions describing common recurring problems in the workplace. The circumstances described in these questions, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.

Workplace Q & A: Part 2

Q: Do I have to contribute to my company’s PAC?

“My company has a Political Action Committee that routinely supports Republican candidates for office. I am a Democrat. Other people at my level regularly contribute $2,000 each year to the PAC. No one says anything, but everyone does it. I do not want to contribute. Do I have to?”

A: You have no obligation to contribute.

Nor can your company make it a term and condition of your job. However, it would be naive to think that your failure to contribute will go unnoticed, especially if you make a fairly hefty salary. If you don’t contribute, the company could feel very differently about you in the future. You need to decide whether you want to stand out in this way.

Q: Can I be fired because I filed for bankruptcy?

“In the past five years, my mother needed extensive medical treatment. She wasn’t old enough to get Medicare and had no health insurance, so I paid her medical bills. Then my wife lost her part-time job. As a result of these and some other financial setbacks, I filed for bankruptcy last month. My boss found out about it. He told me he was going to fire me because people who file for bankruptcy are deadbeats. Can he do this?”

A: The short answer is “no.”

An employer cannot fire an employee because he has filed for bankruptcy. However, once you point this out to your boss, you might want to quietly and quickly look for another job. Even if he doesn’t fire you, it is unlikely that he will be able to treat you fairly in the future.

Workplace-Q-and-A

Q: Can I get my old job back?

“I work for a non-union company. A month ago, I was promoted to a management position. It turns out that I hate being a manager. I would like to return to my old job. As soon as I was promoted, the company hired someone else to fill my old job. I asked my company to remove the new employee since he’s only been on the job for one month, while I’ve worked for the company for ten years. The company responded with an unequivocal ‘no.’ Isn’t the company obligated to give me back my old job?”

A: The short answer is “no.”

Most non-union companies have a “no-bumping rule.” Under such a rule, once a senior person vacates a job, he cannot return to his old job if someone else holds the position. It does not matter why the senior person left the job in the first place, nor whether the person currently holding the job is very junior.

Companies have established this no-bumping rule to promote stability and enhance mobility. Accordingly, if you currently have a position that you’re happy with and the company offers you another position, you need to thoroughly investigate the new job duties and the new work situation before you make the move. Once you move, it is quite unlikely you will be able to return to your former position

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This post contains numerous questions describing common recurring problems in the workplace. The circumstances described in these questions, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.

Workplace Q & A: Part 1

Q: Do I have to sign a written warning?

“I am a midlevel officer at a large company. Yesterday, my manager and a human resources person handed me a written warning for performance deficiencies. They told me to read it, sign it and return it today.

“I read the warning and there are major inaccuracies. Do I have to sign the warning?”

A: The short answer is “no,” but there is a better strategy than simply not signing.

First, it is important to understand why the company wants you to sign. Many courts and governmental agencies require an employee to have notice of performance deficiencies before he can be terminated. The company wants you to sign so it can claim that it has fulfilled this notice requirement.

Simply refusing to sign the notice won’t get you off the hook. Your manager and the HR representative will be able to testify that you received the warning anyway. If you claim that you didn’t read it, you’ll look irresponsible.

Instead, you should inform the HR person that you need a few days to respond. During that time, you should craft a very factual, unemotional response to the warning. The response should start by stating: “I received the warning and read it carefully and my response is as follows.” This should be followed by an explanation that carefully details every inaccuracy, setting forth each of the alleged facts that are false.

Q: Can my company bar me from returning to my desk once I’ve been fired?

“I was recently terminated from my job because of a job elimination. My major clients decided not to renew their contracts with the company. After I was given notice of being RIFed, I was escorted out of the building by a security guard. It made me look like I was a criminal or was fired for gross misconduct. Isn’t this illegal? Doesn’t it violate my right to privacy?”

A: The short answer is “probably not.”

Companies routinely escort terminated employees out of the building for several reasons. They do not want to risk destruction of property or theft of documents. They do not want to risk an emotional scene in the workplace. They don’t want to make case-by-case determinations as to who is honest and who is not, so they don’t let any terminated employee return to his desk.

In your case, if your company routinely escorts terminated employees from the building, you would have no basis to complain. However, if you were singled out while other RIFed employees were permitted to return to their offices, and if there were no allegations of dishonesty on your part, then you have been wronged. In that case, you might be able to use the mistreatment to your advantage. Pointing this out to the company and threatening to file a formal complaint may give the company an incentive to increase your severance pay or offer you something else of value.

Workplace-Q-and-A

Q: Can my manager tell my co-workers that I’m being treated for rheumatoid arthritis?

“I recently had to take time off from work because of a flare up of my rheumatoid arthritis. My medical condition has never impacted my job and I don’t expect it to do so in the future. While I was out, several of my co-workers naturally asked where I was. My manager explained that I was being treated for rheumatoid arthritis. Is my manager allowed to do this?”

A: Your manager acted inappropriately.

By divulging medical information with no business reason to do so, he violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and your right to privacy. That said, you need to decide on how to proceed. Certainly you should point out this managerial lapse to your Human Resources Department and obtain assurances it will never happen again. You should also prepare a response for any co-worker who inquires about your situation, emphasizing that your condition was temporary and that you are now absolutely fine.

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This post contains numerous questions describing common recurring problems in the workplace. The circumstances described in these questions, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.

Workplace Bullying: Part 5

What you should never do

No matter how oppressed you feel, you should never stoop to the level of your oppressor. You will only get fired. You should never retaliate. It never works. This is key to protecting yourself. At some point in his career, the bully will eventually self-destruct.

Don’t buy into the standard response that “you’re both at fault.” A senior person or human resources representative may try to convince you that what you perceive as bullying is nothing more than a personality dispute, and that both you and the bully are equally to blame. This explanation gets both the company and the bully off the hook. It guarantees that nothing will improve.

Can you sue?

Bullying itself is not illegal. However, some forms of bullying do constitute illegal acts. Here are some key examples.

● Sexual harassment

Tina was repeatedly bullied by her supervisor Kevin. He introduced her to everyone as “Tiny Tina.” He repeatedly made her rewrite weekly reports for no legitimate business reason. Despite Tina’s efforts to stay late to meet all deadlines, Kevin called her “lazy” and a “goof off.” Although Kevin’s aggressive conduct is not overtly sexual, the mere fact that a male supervisor has bullied a female subordinate can itself constitute sexual harassment.

I’ll have a lot more to say about sexual harassment in another post.

● Defamation

Howard repeatedly called Marlene a “whore” in front of her coworkers. Marlene can bring suit against Howard for defamation.

● Assault and battery

Ben pushed and shoved Abraham. He pulled out a pocketknife and told Abraham, “I’ll slit your throat if you say anything to the boss about this.” Ben’s conduct constitutes assault and battery, which is a crime. Abraham can go to the police.

● Stalking

Paul has a delusional interest in his coworker Evelyn. Paul keeps offering to walk her to train, walk her home, accompany her to meetings, and Evelyn continues to refuse. Paul continues nonetheless to call Evelyn, leave her voice messages and send her emails, even after Evelyn flatly tells him not to. Paul’s conduct interferes with Evelyn’s ability to live her life. Paul’s conduct is a violation of anti-stalking laws. Evelyn can go to the police and get a restraining order, or she may file a suit seeking damages.

● Cyber-bullying

Bilal repeatedly uses social media sites to harass Sarah. He posts personal, private information about Sarah on websites. He uploads embarrassing photos of Sarah while she was drinking at an office party. In some states, Sarah may sue Bilal for violation of cyber-bulling laws.

● Interference with contractual relations

Robert is up for a promotion. John spreads false information about Robert, so that Robert ends up getting fired instead. Since Robert had an employment agreement with the company, he may be able to sue John for interference with his contractual relationship with the company. In the suit, Robert would assert that John made it impossible for Roberts to do his work, as required by the employment contract.

● Intentional infliction of emotional distress

Angie was berated, insulted and humiliated by her supervisor to the point that she became physically and emotionally ill. Her supervisor’s aggressive conduct violated standards of common decency. Angie might have a legal cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

● Whistle blowing

Horst complained to top management that quarterly financial reports were being improperly altered to make the company look better. Falsification of such financial statements would clearly be a violation of the law. Horst’s manager repeatedly bullied him in an attempt to get him to withdraw his complaint. There are whistle blowing laws that protect Horst. Under such laws, he would have a cause of action against both his manager and his employer.

● Violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

Amy works in a food processing plant. Employees must sort, clean and pack seafood in a refrigerated environment. Amy’s manager, intent on showing her “who’s the boss,” lowers the temperature below that required to maintain freshness and reduces the duration of her regular mid-shift break to five minutes. Since her boss’ bullying has created an unsafe working environment, Amy can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Unfortunately, there are real downsides to bringing a lawsuit or filing a complaint with law enforcement authorities, no matter how aggressive the aggressor is and no matter how meritorious your cause of action. Suing is expensive and time consuming and it makes it hard to get another job. Other employers cannot legally hold against you the fact that you complained or sued, but in practice some do. They fear that if you were willing to come after your previous employer, then you will come after them, too.

Conclusion

When it comes to workplace bullying, there are no easy answers. In many ways, the best advice is to use your common sense.

To the extent possible, have a thick skin. No matter where you work, there will be obnoxious coworkers, overly aggressive managers and unfair procedures. You just have to be as strategic as possible.

Seek out trusted advisers and confidants. Even if you are being shunned at your job, don’t let this isolation carry over to the rest of your life. Quite often, the advice of a dispassionate person can help you put the workplace in the proper perspective.

Finally, keep reminding yourself that the bully is the bad one, not you. Addressing the bullying is one of many challenges in the workplace. Knowing that you are in the right will help you solve the problem and move on.

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The blog contains numerous illustrative brief vignettes. The circumstances described in these vignettes, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.

Workplace Bullying: Part 4

What to do if you are targeted by a bully

I’m going to break down your responses to bullying into a series of key steps and options. First comes Analysis. Then comes Action.

Analysis

It is critically important that you assess your situation in an objective way. If possible, you should do so with the help of a trusted advisor.

If you feel unhappy or stressed at work, teased, or singled out for blame or punishment, it may not be immediately clear what is going on. What you may initially regard as bullying may not in fact be bullying. Managers have the right to assign work, evaluate work and terminate you if you are performing unsatisfactory. A manager’s conduct becomes bullying when it serves no legitimate work purpose or when it is cruel or arbitrary.

Here are some signs that you are under stress but may not in fact be the target of bullying that requires serious action on your part.

● Times are tough for everyone in the company. Everyone has to do more with fewer resources.

● You have a history of past antagonism with the individual whom you suspect of bullying which, although annoying, has been manageable.

● The individual who appears to be mistreating you himself may be under great pressure or face a tight deadline, and the troubling behavior may be temporary.

● The apparent aggressor is not intentionally mean or menacing, but is simply someone with less than superior social skills.

Action

Once you have satisfied yourself that you are in fact being subjected to behavior that does not belong in the workplace, you have four main options: Ignore, Confront, Complain or Leave.

Ignore

If the problematic behavior is annoying but in reality does not affect your ability to do your job, the best course of action is to ignore it. Avoid the person if possible.

This advice works well when you have to interact with the aggressor for only a short time period, or when he has no credibility with anyone else in the workplace. Ignoring the aggressor also works well then his obnoxious behavior doesn’t push one of your emotional buttons.

There is nothing cowardly or inappropriate about this course of action. We all have to choose our battles. Sometimes it is just not worth exerting the energy to correct something that isn’t really a major problem for you.

Confront

On the other hand, if the aggressor’s behavior really does get to you, then you do have to act. Action is especially important when the intimidation is coming from your manager.

If you have had a decent relationship with the aggressor and he is a basically reasonable person, a confrontation might end the bullying. Confrontation often works when the aggressor understands that the alternative to a peaceful resolution is a formal complain that might adversely affect his career.

Complain

Filing a complaint about bullying is much more difficult than it may seem. Before you complain to a more senior person or your human resources representative, you need to make sure you can back up your allegations with facts.

● You can show that you have been the victim of a pattern of repeated, serious bullying that interferes with your ability to keep your job.

● You have corroboration of the bully’s conduct in the form of emails, voice mails or other concrete materials. Witnesses can be helpful, but keep in mind that witnesses sometimes disappear or are reluctant to support your allegations because they fear for their jobs.

● The bully is not the superstar of the company. The more valuable the bully is to the company, the less inclined the company will be to discipline him and the more inclined the company will be to attempt to silence you or get you to resign. In the worst-case scenario, the company could try to fire you

Leave

It is unfortunate and unfair, but sometimes removing yourself from a bad situation is the wisest course of action.

You should consider leaving the company if you believe the chances of stopping the bullying behavior are slim or if you are so affected by the obnoxious conduct that your physical or mental health is at serious risk.

Ideally you should line up another job first, but that is not always possible. If you do interview for other jobs, you need to keep two things in mind.

● In general, you should not share with a potential employer why you want to leave your current employment. Have a credible cover story about new opportunities, skills, interests, etc. No company wants to hire someone who has been involved in any kind of interpersonal conflict, even if it is clear you are not at fault.

● Make sure you don’t exchange one bad work environment for another one that is just as bad. To address the environment on the new job, you can ask questions in the interview that appear neutral. Ask why is the job vacant and how, if at all, has the work changed. Try to get information from people who already work there about your potential boss and the culture of the company.

Keep in mind that if you resign from your present employment, it is unlikely you will be able to collect unemployment benefits. The only exception is if you can convince your state’s Office of Unemployment Insurance that you were “constructively discharged.” This means the employer made it so difficult or impossible for you to work there that you had to quit. While this may be the case, many companies will vigorous contest such an allegation.

 More to come …

What you should never do

Can you sue?

Conclusion

 

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The blog contains numerous illustrative brief vignettes. The circumstances described in these vignettes, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.

Workplace Bullying: Part 3

Bullying by coworkers or subordinates

Coworkers and subordinates can likewise engage in bullying in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most important types of conduct.

● Undermining a manager’s authority

Marsha tells all her coworkers not to do any work all day.

● Spreading gossip about a manager or a coworker

Linda tells everyone in the department about the arrest of Henry’s son in a barroom fight.

● Withholding information that a manager or coworker needs to perform his job

Matt refuses to give Francesca the accounting figures she needs to do the monthly reports.

● Shunning or isolating others

Angela asks everyone to have lunch but repeatedly and pointedly excludes Larry.

● Conferring cruel or humorous nicknames

Lydia refers to Arthur by his childhood nickname Noodle, which she learned about on a social media website.

● Commenting about a coworker’s personal life

Ben tells everyone in the department that Emily has no social life and does nothing but work.

● Sabotaging another’s work or equipment

Dan takes random items from Julian’s desk and throws them in the trash. He “accidentally” spills coffee on Julian’s computer.

● Interrupting or inaccurately correcting a coworker at meetings or in front or others

Every time Alberto says something in a meeting, Tammy corrects him.

● Teasing

Pam routinely makes fun of Dawei’s appearance, accent and food preferences, each time adding that she is “just kidding.”

● Making dismissive comments

Jane tells everyone that Elba “is afraid of her own shadow” and “really can’t do much on her own.”

● Physically threatening or scaring a coworker

Simon tells Isra that he physically attacked the last person who contradicted him.

Who can be a bully

Virtually anyone can engage in bad behaviors that interfere with your ability to do your job.

In general, men appear to do more bullying than women because they are more often in positions of power and authority. But men have no corner on the market. Many women are effective bullies. Sometimes women bully to prove they can be as tough as men. Sometimes women themselves lack support from their peers. They may feel threatened if they believe they were token hires. Sometimes women have been bullied themselves and it is the only management style they know.

Anyone connected with your work can be a bully. That includes vendors, customers, clients, interns, technicians and trainers. Bullying can take place at work, outside work, through email, phone conversations or social media.

Who can be the target of bullying

Virtually anyone can be bullied. Most surveys reveal that about one-third of employees have at some time experienced this kind of abuse.

There are many theories about who is more susceptible to bullying. One theory is that bullies target people who are too nice to fight back or who avoid confrontation. Another theory is that bullies don’t discriminate among potential targets. Perhaps the best explanation is that bullies are opportunistic. They bully those individuals who they perceive as threats.

Bullying to gain the advantage

Many people view the workforce as a zero-sum game. For everyone who does well, someone else has to do poorly. There is, of course, some logic to this model, as promotions are much less frequent as you advance upward in a company. What’s more, some companies force the distribution of performance evaluations to follow a curve, so that some employees will necessarily have low performance ratings even if they’ve done a good job. In an era of massive layoffs and reductions in force, employees are now routinely ranked as to how useful or valuable they are to a company.

In such a competitive environment, bullying becomes a tool for the aggressor to gain advantage over others in the workforce. Bullies are often inventive. They figure out how to undermine a coworker in order to eliminate him from the competition or even get him to resign because he’s so unhappy at work.

Is bullying an effective way to get ahead in an organization?

I wish I could tell you that it is not. But very often, it is. Bullying that is too obvious, extreme or violent is rarely successful and often results in the termination of the aggressor. However, most successful bullying is subtler. It is done quietly, without witnesses or documentary support. Successful bullying can go on for years.

More to come …

What to do if you are targeted by a bully

What you should never do

Can you sue?

Conclusion

 

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The blog contains numerous illustrative brief vignettes. The circumstances described in these vignettes, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.

Workplace Bullying: Part 2

Bullying by managers

Managers can engage in bullying in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most important types of conduct.

● Giving conflicting, arbitrary or unclear instructions on how to do your job

Bob is Mary’s manager. Bob tells Mary that he wants her to deliver all her status reports orally. When Mary complies with Bob’s instructions, he disciplines her for failing to submit written status reports.

● Making undermining, insulting, abusive or false comments about your work to you and to others

Steve is Nathaniel’s manager. Steve himself reports to William. When the Department fails to meet its monthly sales quota, Steve tells William that Nathaniel didn’t make a single sales call, when in fact Nathaniel made more calls than all his coworkers combined.

● Sharing personal information about your work, salary or mistakes with others who have no business need to know

David is Melanie’s manager. David lets his entire group know what Melanie’s salary is. He tells the group that Melanie is overpaid.

● Making cruel, abusive or sarcastic remarks, and failing to engage in basic workplace courtesy

Mark announces at a staff meeting that Julia’s husband moved out because he couldn’t stand Julia any longer.

● Arbitrarily changing work hours, work location and work schedule with no business reason.

Barbara works from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. so she can pick up her children from school. Barbara’s supervisor Marie abruptly changes her hours with no prior notice and for no work-related reason.

● Withholding pay, raises, promotions and performance reviews

Marco cannot get a raise unless he has a performance evaluation on file with the Human Resources Department. His manager Greg repeatedly tells Marco that he is too busy to do one for him and, as a consequence, Marco gets no raise for the coming year.

● Assigning work that cannot possibly be completed in the time allotted

Molly’s supervisor assigns her two projects, both of which are due in five days. In the best circumstances, each one would require at least four days to complete.

● Assigning little or no work

Dennis is Marina’s manager. Dennis repeatedly tells Marina that he hasn’t had time to figure out what Marina should be doing. So Marina sits around doing nothing.

● Giving unfair, inaccurate or thoughtless performance reviews

Chris supervises Alan. Chris produces a performance review that refers only to Alan’s weakness and makes no mention of Alan’s many accomplishments during the past year.

● Taking credit for a subordinate’s work

Theodore produces regular quarterly reports for his manager Denise. On the header of every report, Denise erases Theodore’s name and inserts her own name as the author.

● Criticizing a subordinate for mistakes beyond his control

David blames Ruby when a client doesn’t show up for an important meeting, even though Ruby sent the client a confirmation note and the client responded he was indeed attending.

● Downplaying or mocking a subordinate’s legitimates concerns

No matter what the issue Lillian raises, her manager Scott tells her that she is overreacting, she is a drama queen, or she is too sensitive.

● Retaliating against a subordinate for making legitimate complaints

Xavier points out certain legitimate concerns to the Compliance Department, after which his manager Andy starts a reign of terror against him.

 More to come …

Bullying by coworkers or subordinates

Who can be a bully

Who can be the target of bullying

Bullying to gain the advantage

Is bullying an effective way to get ahead in an organization?

What to do if you are targeted by a bully

What you should never do

Can you sue?

Conclusion

 Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The blog contains numerous illustrative brief vignettes. The circumstances described in these vignettes, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.


Workplace Bullying: Part 1

What is a workplace bully?

A workplace bully repeatedly and intentionally engages in behavior that is designed to undermine, threaten or harass you. The bully’s conduct distracts you from your job and prevents you from reaching your full potential.

More often than not, you will feel bullied before you are actually aware of specific behaviors directed against you. You may dread coming to work or interacting with a certain person. You may feel anxious or ill at ease.

Bullying not only affects the bully’s target, but often the bully’s coworkers and other subordinates. These other employees fear that they, too, will become a target. They feel guilty about being unable or unwilling to protect the target.

Without doubt, bullying undermines productivity, morale and creativity in a workplace. It is often the cause of excessive and unnecessary turnover, as well as reputational harm for the employer.

The ways that an employee can be bullied are endless. I will break down the behavior into two categories: bullying by managers, and bullying by coworkers and subordinates. The main reason for making this distinction is that managers generally have more power to derail your career than coworkers or subordinates.

More to come …

Bullying by managers

Bullying by coworkers or subordinates

Who can be a bully

Who can be the target of bullying

Bullying to gain the advantage

Is bullying an effective way to get ahead in an organization?

What to do if you are targeted by a bully

What you should never do

Can you sue?

Conclusion

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The blog contains numerous illustrative brief vignettes. The circumstances described in these vignettes, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.