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Does it need to involve weapons to be a hostile work environment?
August 17, 2011 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Should I got to HR about a hostile work environment?

I have worked in a medium sized consumer company for about two years. Recently we have had a change in a few levels of mgmt, including my direct boss. A rather bitter person I work with has taken this as an opportunity to force their position on all of us. This person is generally acknowledges by many people to be an angry person.

I was recently out of town and this person made changes to a document and sent it to another person, but told that person to not tell me what changes had been made because s/he wanted to see if I would find the errors - literally like a test! Thankfully the other person involved told me. This person is on the equal footing as me, so they do not manage me but act like it.

Additionally I recently took on a daily internet aspect of a project he/she was working on for a couple months. While I was on vacation I asked this person to please take it over and they said basically "are you sure you won't have internet access? I don't know if i can do all those days". I was asking for 7 days of what I have been doing for at least 40 and will do for another 40 or so.

There have also been lectures about how this person doesn't like emails and would just prefer I come into her/his office. Clearly I have to modify my working style to suite them. There were other general hostile emails calling me a liar, amongst other things.

This is getting bad enough that is is affecting my work - I actually am making mistakes and missing things because of this. The problem is my new boss is not much of a charmer - having said things are "F*ckin retarded and F*ckin gay" in meetings.

I am thinking of going to HR, but worry I will be labeled a complainer. I just feel I can't go to the new boss as he is a C-Level exec and part of the problem.

Any suggestions?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The problem is my new boss is not much of a charmer - having said things are "F*ckin retarded and F*ckin gay" in meetings.

Honestly, this guy seems like more of a problem than your annoying coworker. But your annoying coworker is a problem, too. Neither of their behaviors is cool. If it's affecting your work productivity negatively--and it seems like it is--you should go to HR. Even if for no other reason than when the next guy complains about one of them there will already be a paper trail.
posted by phunniemee at 7:53 AM on August 17, 2011

Your coworker is an asshole, but your boss evidences a hostile work environment. Sounds like the kind of place you're not going to make a difference in by complaining to HR. I'd start shopping around your resume.
posted by juniperesque at 8:00 AM on August 17, 2011

I completely disagree with phunniemee. Your new boss may have social issues, but that doesn't necessarily make him an ignorant manager. You should absolutely go to him first- if you went straight to HR with this problem and said, "I don't want to go to my boss because he's a boor", that's not going to help your cause.
posted by mkultra at 8:00 AM on August 17, 2011

You're right, you won't get any support for your complaint because the company directors enjoy working in a hostile environment.

Time to start looking for something else.
posted by tel3path at 8:00 AM on August 17, 2011

If there's a hierarchy you follow the hierarchy initially. Both because (a) you don't get what you want if you're perceived as being unwilling to follow the structure and respect people's authority and (b) because you don't solve a problem with a dysfunctional structure by not even attempting to use the structure.

Personally I'm in line with tel3path - a situation as toxic as this is typically endemic and you should just consider this a notice that you don't want to work in a place like that. But if you really want to battle it...

First up, document document document. Save emails such as they are (and it's unsurprising that someone this crappy would have evolved behaviors that make it easier to dodge getting sanctioned & confines his crap to spoken words) and just journal other stuff.

In a case like this where someone is using hate speech in a meeting I wouldn't even draw the line at putting a recorder in my pocket. I don't know where you are but there's states and cities where that sort of discriminatory language is actionable. Mind you it may be that recording someone without their permission is as well. But if this person isn't above deliberately sabotaging your work I wouldn't put it past them to do something shit and try to tag you with it.

Second, confine your complaints and requests to your boss to things that are concrete. The fact that this person won't help you for 7 days out of 87 isn't necessarily wrong; you are not his boss and don't know his workload. In that situation, when you can't get anyone else to volunteer, you go to the boss and say you need a resource to take care of this thing while you're on vacation and let him assign it. Similarly the fact that they have a different work style than you? You have a different work style than him. So what? Stick with concrete offenses & outright misdeeds.
posted by phearlez at 8:35 AM on August 17, 2011

Do not go to HR. HR is not there to protect you. It is there to protect management. "Hostile work environment' does not mean what you think it does.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:18 AM on August 17, 2011 [11 favorites]

Yeah, this isn't a hostile work environment. This is a shitty work environment, for which you have no protection. Get out.

If you're lucky, you'll get an exit interview in which you can mention these things, and if more people leave with the same complaints maybe HR will do something. Probably not.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:22 AM on August 17, 2011

What is your desired outcome? You want this person to show you some respect, right?

I honestly think you need to address these issues with your co-worker directly. What is your boss going to do, tell them to be nice to you? I don't think that will work, they will just take every chance they get to twist the knife deeper.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:34 AM on August 17, 2011

I would not go to HR, but document with names and dates detailing the incidents as much as you can. Should an issue come up with your work you have examples that you are accommodating your coworker, but they are not working with you.

I agree with Wordwoman - HR is not for you.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 9:51 AM on August 17, 2011

I'm not sure you could get 100% favorable outcome by going to HR here. Even if all of this is brought up and escalated within HR, it's a matter of time before it blows over and they go back to their old habits. The only remedy is getting them to leave entirely, or making plans to leave yourself. (or even earn your way into upper management, which to be honest, I really wouldn't wish upon anyone).

Not all HR departments are alike either. Some will get into these kinds of interpersonal issues and work towards resolution....some primarily focus on hiring, firing, and general workplace duties (or whatever the law requires of them..and often the bare minimum).

I wish you the best of luck either way. If it was me, I'd get my exit plan worked on, then address these issues directly with those involved. If it doesn't pan out, I'd have my plan B to fall back on.
posted by samsara at 10:01 AM on August 17, 2011

I'm surprised no one has suggested this yet, but you need to document, document, document. And look for another job!
posted by annsunny at 11:18 AM on August 17, 2011

Never go to HR with stuff like this. The only time HR can help is if you are suffering genuine sexual harassment or harassment because you are one of a protected group (e.g. because of your race, sexual orientation, etc). If you don't like the job, quit, but be aware that you'll probably just end up working with different assholes at your new job.
posted by w0mbat at 7:43 PM on August 17, 2011

Try to detach yourself emotionally from the lunacy of your coworker and just react coolly to the task-related issues.

they said basically "are you sure you won't have internet access? I don't know if i can do all those days"

The answer is "Yes, I am sure." And then you follow up with an email to him/her, cc'ing the boss, saying "as a follow-up to our conversation, thank you for taking care of the required [daily internet task] from Sept 2-8, as I will be away from the office that week."

There have also been lectures about how this person doesn't like emails and would just prefer I come into her/his office. Clearly I have to modify my working style to suite them.

Not beyond a reasonable level, you don't. Either send him/her a brief email concluding with "please call me to discuss," or give him/her a quick call and send a follow-up email. And if you get any guff, just kindly say "Sorry, AngryPerson, I can't just come to your office every time I need to communicate with you!" in a tone of voice that conveys that he/she has suggested something over-the-top ludicrous.

There were other general hostile emails calling me a liar, amongst other things.

That does straight to the boss, with a note saying "I need to discuss this email with you." And then you go have a closed-door conversation where you say that you are bringing it to his attention that that AngryPerson has called you a liar. The issue is not that this is rude or upsetting, the issue is that it's unacceptable behavior for professionals. And then you ask how bossman would like you to handle this, or will he be handling this?
posted by desuetude at 9:19 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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