Should I add fuel to the (now-banked) fire?
February 9, 2011 5:01 PM   Subscribe

A fellow manager left me an offensive cartoon. What to do? Details inside

Back story: I've had lots of issues with management this year, getting accused of being mean, anonymous complaints, lots of bad stuff all around. I pushed back by pointing out areas where my employer has been inconsistent, or has not done for me what they want me to do for others. Also pointing out that I and my group have done really good work under very difficult conditions, with few resources. Lots more detail left out, water under bridge. Employer had a few valid points, and a few not-valid points. I required employer to treat me fairly. Employer requiring me to get training. Also, I lawyered up, but am looking for some ideas before I go back to $200/hr opinions.

During 1 of many re-education meetings, I called my boss out for sexist, offensive behavior on his part. with documentation.

All staff had to take training on sexual harassment a few months ago. Company-wide, unrelated initiative.

A fellow manager uses joking behavior to say what she really feels, but falls back on "It's a joke." I've been told fellow manager has been back-stabbing me.

I was away for 2 weeks due to illness and subsequent death in my family. Came back to work, and a printout of this was on my desk. Very likely left by fellow manager, who is aware of the death in my family. I was offended, set it aside and didn't respond, but it really upset me. I find it offensive on the basis of my being female, and I think it was kind of cruel.

The drama this year has been lots of No Fun, and I don't want more of it. I hate game-playing and manipulation. I'm looking for new work and making other plans to deal with how crappy all this is. But I don't think behavior like this should be tolerated.
posted by Mom to Work & Money (40 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
But . . . you can't actually prove it was him, can you? I'd just look at it as an idiot wasting a few dollars on a stupid joke and throw it away.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:06 PM on February 9, 2011

Under some circumstances I would find that note funny, but given your situation it sounds like passive-aggressive bullshit and a textbook example of creating a hostile work environment. But unless you can prove who's doing it, I don't see a lot you can do besides report it to HR as "this was left on my desk. Not cool."

I hope you find a better job in a better company so you'll have the glorious opportunity to walk to the front door on your last day'flip everyone off and yell "See you in hell, fuckers!"
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:13 PM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

That's really terrible. Whatever else you do, make sure you report it to HR.
posted by Jairus at 5:15 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would post the printout up someplace public (office fridge, perhaps?) with a post-it note that says: "Someone seems to have misplaced this on my desk. Please take if it is yours. I'm sure you have been missing it, because it is oh-so-clever. Thanks!"

You can't know for sure who put it there, but it's really dumb, so I definitely get the wanting-to-call-someone-out-on-it business. This way you can.
posted by phunniemee at 5:16 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would deliver it to HR with a short note saying that this item was left on your desk on x date. Not requesting any action on their part, just to document it. Keep copies of this, and everything, at home.

IANAL, but it seems like if you want to have the option of making a formal harassment or hostile work environment complaint at any point down the road, you'll want an official paper trail.
posted by argonauta at 5:20 PM on February 9, 2011 [21 favorites]

Putting ANYTHING on your desk with the word "whore" on it, especially when it's pretty clear that they're referring to you, is a pretty big deal. I would definitely bring it up with your HR department, if you have one. Consider you have a history with certain people in the office, they might be able to help you. Do you have a friend/ally at work who might know when it was put on your desk?

If HR can't do anything, I would put the magnet on the office refrigerator with a note explaining the situation, and saying how despicable and inappropriate that kind of behavior is in the office. Most people are bound to sympathize, unless your office is full of crazy people. The person who left that magnet for you wants you to feel ashamed. Don't let them make you feel that way. Show them you don't feel that way.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:23 PM on February 9, 2011

You have to either mend fences or leave as soon as you can. It doesn't sound like management has your back so there is little point trying to address this through formal channels.
posted by blargerz at 5:24 PM on February 9, 2011

Bring it to HR even if you can't prove who left it - that is some hostile workplace shit, right there.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:26 PM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Good lord, don't leave a note on the fridge, that is a chickenshit way for a professional to handle things, and will only diminish respect for you.
posted by blargerz at 5:27 PM on February 9, 2011 [10 favorites]

clarification: I believe that if asked, fellow manager would admit leaving the cartoon. In the past, when I have spoken to fellow manager about bad behavior, there's been subtle retaliation.
posted by Mom at 5:27 PM on February 9, 2011

turn it over to HR, don't give any theories about who left it.
posted by nadawi at 5:31 PM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Just as a crazy, wild idea, can you get a blue LED keychain? Many printers now come with "secret" identification patterns of yellow dots. If the pattern is the same between that printout and, say, fellow manager's printer ...

I've never tried this in practice but I do know they exist.
posted by adipocere at 5:32 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

don't escalate drama by trying to discuss this with anyone besides HR.
posted by nadawi at 5:32 PM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Bring it to HR. Document document document.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:32 PM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Do I understand you correctly that you called out your boss in a group setting?
posted by blargerz at 5:32 PM on February 9, 2011

Talk to HR, tell them what happened, tell them how you want to see this situation addressed and that if you aren't satisfied you will seek outside counsel. Its important that you are clear on how you would like to see this situation rectified. Saying "deal with this" without being specific tends to lead to inferior results.

If nothing happens or you are not satisfied then talk to an employment attorney.

This is textbook harassment, assuming you work for a decent sized organization who recognizes this they will come down hard.
posted by bitdamaged at 5:36 PM on February 9, 2011

If they would admit to it, ask them. Then bring it to HR with the additional information that they admitted it. DO NOT repost it anywhere public since you would then become the harasser.
posted by soelo at 5:54 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

blargerz, No. I called out my boss in private. Still quite risky, but explained to boss that the environment here is less than ideal, and that he sets the tone. Gave example, he immediately recognized that his behavior in that instance was sexist and inappropriate. There's a lot more backstory, most non-applicable to this questopn, and I'm honestly trying to get past the drama.
posted by Mom at 5:54 PM on February 9, 2011

Don't turn it over to HR until you've spoken to a lawyer (I know you want to avoid the $200/hour answer, but still). Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I would pick it up by a corner, carefully put it in a folder, and bring it to a lawyer. Perhaps move it back to the exact location you found it and take a picture of it first.

Given what you've said, there's no way out of this without involving a lawyer.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 5:57 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Uh, I'm seconding above who said this is a pretty big deal in a work environment. I'm assuming you have not "fired the first shot" by name-calling to precipitate this. Given that, calling someone a whore in a professional setting should be a fireable offense. You label this a "less than ideal" environment? Wow, you have some pret-ty loose standards. Document, file a complaint with HR, and put everyone on notice.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:02 PM on February 9, 2011

You don't sound like you're in any position to call anybody out about anything, no matter how heinous. If I may be blunt, if "yeah, but you totally did some other inconsistent bad thing to me" is the best defence you've been able to put up against accusations about your own behaviour, you might actually be in worse than 'no position'.

As an employee subject to performance management arrangements, you have no real strategic standing at all. The likelihood of you returning to good standing in the office is almost zero, because the proverbial sticks, right or wrong. So while the card was clearly unprofessional, any "this is inappropriate and offensive" claim from you can be instantly countered with "Yeah, it reminds me a bit of the time you [x]. How's that training working out for you, anyway?"

If you had senior allies or credible peers who had your back, you wouldn't be asking this question, so I'm going to assume you don't. My advice, then, is don't fight a battle you can't win without going all the way with expensive lawyers. Proudly display the card on your desk, and keep looking for a clean start someplace else.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:35 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to add that all politics aside, that is truly awful. I'm really sorry you have to put up with that.

You can't control your peer's behavior, so I would certainly not confront her on it. This seems like something that should be left to HR, even if it doesn't seem fair.
posted by lab.beetle at 6:52 PM on February 9, 2011

I doubt OP's behavior, whatever it was, would justify calling her a whore. I am not too familiar with employment law, but this looks to me like a pretty egregious bit of sexual harassment. I'd get a consult with a lawyer.
posted by Mavri at 6:59 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you absolutely sure this wasn't from a colleague with whom you're on friendly terms? A few years back everyone in my work group received ever so slightly raunchy magnets as a little holiday gift. The one I received was suggestive, but not explicit, and it was given in good fun. I'm female and the giver was my female supervisor, we were both in our late 20s at the time and professionally friendly, though not personal friends.
posted by ellenaim at 7:15 PM on February 9, 2011

Nothing justifies calling anybody a whore, and I apologise if that came across as my point.

I meant to convey that if somebody is already far from the management favourite, then that person is unlikely to be the subject of objective, balanced and fair judgments about whether they've been treated professionally or poorly.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:16 PM on February 9, 2011

This is something that is immediately copied, turned to your lawyer and forwarded to HR. Do not talk to other managers. Do not talk to other employees. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

This requires an immediate response and reaction by HR. It is not your job to investigate, nor to finger point. This is going to be a nightmare scenario for HR - and in the interim it may be rough on you, but unless you have done something as equally heinous, this is the end of the matter. Whoever left it is getting fired (or given the opportuntity to write you a letter of appology with their resignation). The question for your lawyer becomes - has the environment become so hostile and toxic a work environment for you that you have effectively been forced to resign (with a settlement from the company).
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:06 PM on February 9, 2011

Whoever left it is getting fired (or given the opportuntity to write you a letter of appology with their resignation)

Good luck finding them.
posted by blargerz at 8:36 PM on February 9, 2011

Get out. the well is thoroughly poisoned.
posted by kjs3 at 9:12 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where is HR in all this? Does your employer have an HR department?

I would post the printout up someplace public (office fridge, perhaps?) with a post-it note that says: "Someone seems to have misplaced this on my desk. Please take if it is yours. I'm sure you have been missing it, because it is oh-so-clever. Thanks!"

It would be a very bad idea for you to post in a public place an item that will be interpreted as contributing to a hostile workplace environment.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:22 PM on February 9, 2011

I've worked with people I loathed, and would never have even thought of doing such a thing. If I saw a note like that for someone returning I would've grabbed it off the desk & shred it in order to spare the recipient the upset, regardless of personal feelings. It was incredibly unprofessional and in anyplace I've worked, a firing offence.

I would also take it to the employment lawyer rather than HR. The HR department is there to protect the company from lawsuits first and foremost and that's the reason they enforce rules about this stuff. I'm glad to hear your first instinct is to work on getting out of there, but if you've pissed off the boss you need to protect yourself from getting fired as much as you can so you can survive until the next job, and this is pretty good ammo in that regard. Depending on your jurisdiction there may be a case for constructive dismissal if that sort of thing is being tolerated but your lawyer will know the answer to that.

And I agree: no public escalation, be discreet & private in this and any other dealings vis a vis the work environment.
posted by Salmonberry at 10:31 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Leave, leave, leave. Life is too short for this.
posted by mleigh at 11:24 PM on February 9, 2011

*did not read the above posts

if I got that on my desk I'd go straight to HR. There are certain words that should NEVER be used in a joking sense at work, "whore" would be right up there at the top.
posted by zombieApoc at 2:38 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Give it to HR. Document, document, document. You will need that paper trail at some point later. Life is too short, use your time to find a better work environment.
posted by arcticseal at 6:09 AM on February 10, 2011

I would like to reiterate that the note on the fridge suggestion is astoundingly bad advice.
posted by dmt at 7:02 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm looking for new work

I advise making this your Top Priority.

You're in(have been in) a very toxic work environment, you're very stressed-out about it, and this doesn't sound like a winnable battle. No job is worth this misery. There are two kinds of miserable jobs: (1) Very Low paying jobs. (2) Jobs which make you miserable. The first type is much much better than the second type. I don't care how much you're making, it's not worth being miserable. Look for another job.

ps. I keep wanting to belabor, but I'll restrict it to this: You and they don't work well together -- your description suggests that you don't like them; they don't like or support you, and you're miserable. You and this job (environment) are not a good fit. Get out and on with your life and career before your misery crustates petrifies into bitterness.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 7:04 AM on February 10, 2011

Is it possible you are a big part of the problem here?

-- People think you are mean, there are complaints about you. lotsa bad stuff re you.

-- You respond by saying mgmt isn't doing what YOU want them to do for YOU, and that you do good work. Then you lawyer up.

- during "one of many" re-education meetings (what? are you like in North Korea or something?) for you personally, you call your boss sexist and offensive with documentation. Now, the entire company has to be re-educated, possibly because they know you have a lawyer and are trying to cover their asses. I'm not sure how many employees were involved, or what such seminars cost, but I would guess between those two and the loss of productivity, it probably cost the company thousands of dollars.

-- you've "been told" someone is backstabbing you, cartoon "was likely left by" No hard evidence of either.

-- You were offended. So what do you want for that? Do you want someone fired? Do you want an apology? Do you want a cash settlement? Do you want everyone in the company sent to these reeducation seminars until every last person conforms to your idea of what your ideal work environment is?

-- It's a job. you come in every day and do what you do as well as you can, and they give you money for that. There are no guarantees people will think you are nice, that your kids are cute, or that you are particularly good at what you do.

-- mean people suck, and if they are your coworkers, then your job is going to suck. All the lawyers in the world can't make people like you, or want to work with you.

-- Sorry, but it just sounds like you are being a massive PITA every step of the way, and if I were your boss, I would be looking for ways to get rid of you with out being sued. You are gone already one way or the other, it's just a matter of time. If you really want some sort of cash vindication that's up to you, but it will likely take quite a while, keep you mired in this negativity, and be something around your neck at every place you apply or work in the future.

-- I would say cut your losses and move on to a fresh start somewhere else.
posted by timsteil at 7:48 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would just give the note to HR and start looking into jumping ship yesterday if not sooner. I would also start dialing down my personal emotional investment in work - clock in, work, clock out and forget about it for the rest of the day / night. Pretend you are a waitress or some other profession where there is literally no work that gets taken home.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:13 AM on February 10, 2011

I'm planning my exit. Jobs with health insurance are not easily available where I live.
No, I will not share the image at work other than providing documentation.
Unless my boss or employer do something heinous, I am unlikely to sue for damages or otherwise escalate any legal action. Lawyering up made my employer behave a lot better. They have a lawyer, and I needed someone in my corner who could give me smart legal advice. The lawyer is very calm and helped me with a win:win approach.
Yes, it's likely that some of my problems at work are due to my own actions. But it's complex, and my employer has asked me and my team to produce a lot more work, with fewer resources, and a lot less respect/money, in difficult circumstances. I've looked long and hard at my work record, and feel just fine about it. I think my boss and management have behaved badly, and employees shouldn't be required to be treated badly.

I've realized that my goal is to respond to an unkind, offensive and anonymous action, because sucking it up makes me feel like a doormat. If it were merely tacky or mildly offensive, I'd blow it off and have done before, but this really got to me.

I really do not enjoy drama, and seek to reduce it, but I've discussed this with a few people away from work, read the many thoughtful comments here, and asked my boss for some time tomorrow.

thanks to everyone for their comments.

Bitter old punk: I'm gonna let living well be the best revenge, as soon as possible.
posted by Mom at 3:17 PM on February 10, 2011

I've realized that my goal is to respond to an unkind, offensive and anonymous action

I think this is a much better -- stronger, more honest, and less confuseding -- approach than your original statement:

I find it offensive on the basis of my being female, and I think it was kind of cruel.

Which I think would fall a bit flat, assuming your fellow female manager is identified as the offender:

A fellow manager uses joking behavior to say what she really feels, but falls back on "It's a joke."

Identifying it as cruel because it's an unwarranted personal attack seems closer to what's actually going on; you could still add the point that use of sexual insults is uncool, especially in the workplace. Not because you're female, (there are, in fact, male prostitutes, and they're more real that Santa Claus) but because you're human. I don't what that kind of shit in my workplace, either -- being the target of harassment is unacceptable, regardless of ones identification. (And I, personally, do not want protection from harassment to be granted only to certain classes. But then, I'm basically an egalitarian (or more likely, a Leveller sympathizer))

Keeping in mind that she (assuming, again, that the perpetrator is in fact her) already has established a standing claim that she's making a joke, you may still have the tactical problem of being seen as a person who "can't take a joke". Mentioning that you received this on your first day back from family leave (seriously, what kind of person drops a note like that on the desk of someone who's recently had a death in the family?) should short-circuit that line of thinking.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 6:19 PM on February 10, 2011

Just to note that if it becomes necessary, I imagine that whatever is printed out on workplace printers is traceable by the company's IT department. They could probably find out who did this.
posted by citron at 11:14 AM on February 12, 2011

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