How to deal with hostile, but passive-aggressive, coworker?
May 21, 2015 11:30 AM   Subscribe

I recently took some disability-related work accomodations and time off. This pissed off a coworker of mine, who doesn't think I should get accomodations for a disability she doesn't think is that serious. Since then, she's been treating me badly at work and taking passive-aggressive action against me. What do I do?

It's hard to really explain what - let's call her Abby - has been doing - basically a lot of undermining and just plain hostile behavior and negative side sniping. There have been a couple meetings to talk about the tension where Abby has talked about her frustrations, so I'm not making assumptions on the reasons for the hostility. Abby's not passing on information or collaborating, which I could deal with, but she's also...kind of directing me to do work she doesn't want to do in precisely the way she would do it and then complaining to my boss if I don't. She's telling me not to bother with certain items of my work, and then doing them herself, which makes my own reports of what I'm doing look worse. She consistently cc's my boss and even our head Big Boss on emails to me, complaining of really minor matters. She's not my supervisor, but she acts as though she feels that since I have had disability accomodations, that I need to 'make it up' to the organization somehow.

I'm worried to complain to my boss, because the last time we talked about the fact that Abby had issues with me, my boss said it was part of my job to get along with them. But I'm also worried Abby is making my job harder and increasing the likelihood of me getting fired by making me look bad.

What do I do?
posted by corb to Work & Money (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Get a new job, ideally.

It's not fair and she's the problem, but given your boss's response to your bringing it up I don't see this ending well. Can you bring this up with HR to document what is already happening?
posted by lydhre at 11:40 AM on May 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

If your boss is not willing to try and mediate between you and Abby (it sounds like he blew you off) then about your only hope is to confront Abby directly. Prepare a list of the unprofessional things she has done, hand it to her and say "Listen, I was on disability because I needed to be. If this passive-aggressive stuff does not stop, I'm going to send this list to HR, and e-mail them every time you do anything like this, and we can just escalate and make this situation worse and worse until both of us are miserable, or you can work with me and we can end this now. I don't expect you to apologize, I just expect you to stop. Can you do that?"

Any response other than "Yes I will stop" should be met with a sad smile and an "I'm sorry you feel that way" you might want to secretly record this conversation as well, in case she lets anything unprofessional drop, in which case you can play it back for her and remind her every little shitty thing she does will be forwarded to HR.

Or just start looking for a new job. In my experience, a little income instability in the short term is a small price to pay for not working with a psycho.
posted by signsofrain at 11:42 AM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

You gotta talk to your supervisor/HR. It's part of Abby's job to get along with you, too. If they don't have your back, your primary problem isn't Abby, it's lousy management that doesn't have the wherewithal to foster a work environment where this kind of petty sniping doesn't happen.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:46 AM on May 21, 2015 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: It is maybe worth noting also that my department started with 6 people, but everyone else besides me and this other coworker and our boss has left for other jobs in a really short timeframe, so this kind of behavior magnifies a lot.
posted by corb at 11:46 AM on May 21, 2015

I think my first question on the green was about my coworker who was making my life miserable. I finally stood up to her and said that I would no longer speak to her about anything. If she wanted me to do something for her then she could ask our boss to ask me to do it.

Thing is, she never did ask him. But my standing up to her made her shut up and that's all I needed.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:50 AM on May 21, 2015 [20 favorites]

Document everything.

Refer to your job description, and then legal accommodations, and do your work without fail. Remind your coworker, that you are responsible for your workload, and thank (insert sarcastic mental prep necessary) her for her helpful nature. Some people mistake their OCD for competence in the work situation, and if they have a lazy boss that lets them manage in their place, it is really terrible, if you have a logical, process oriented mind. So if you can document this co-workers attempts to discriminate against you, you will have a better chance of straightening this out. Two can play the cc game, get good at it. If all else fails, ask questions like when did my job description change, can I see the POP or the memo?

I worked with someone who was so ill with narcissistic OCD, she actually boke the new computer she was expected to use, because he knew she was better than the computer. Finally she was canned.
posted by Oyéah at 11:51 AM on May 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Yes, please deal with this only via your supervisor and do not tattle on anyone to jesus. Also you could point out that it's difficult for anyone to get along with someone who mocks and minimizes your disability. Something like that creates a hostile work environment.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:56 AM on May 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

One thing to think about is that she is undermining your employer's ability to comply with the ADA. Your employer might be aware of her antics.

If she actually said in a meeting, "I am frustrated/whatever because you are getting accommodations for a medical condition," I would document the heck out of it. That is some messed up stuff
posted by angrycat at 11:58 AM on May 21, 2015 [23 favorites]

Although I typically never recommend or even use HR, in this case, I would.

This is how you can view it: Accommodations and FML don't exist just for you, they exist for everyone. To protect employees when they have a medical need.

But to have an employee now becoming a - person who wants proof and will take it out on people who they deem do not meet the criteria? And a boss sees this in email and doesn't address it?

So I would document your specific examples, including email, and give it to HR. Just present the evidence and let them handle it. My assumption would be that someone needs to be retrained and/or reminded of policies.
posted by Wolfster at 11:59 AM on May 21, 2015 [10 favorites]

Mod note: Couple of comments deleted. Let's keep it to what solutions are available on the job, not speculating about what the co-worker's hypothetical clergyperson would do. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:02 PM on May 21, 2015

If she is complaining about minor shit and CCing bosses constantly, the bosses may see that she is obnoxious and petty and find her CCing to be annoying. Do the bosses ever respond or weigh in on these emails? I would suggest taking the high road, focusing on just addressing/fixing very minor shit she is complaining about, and not getting into email squabbles on chains with your bosses. Don't look defensive and don't look like you are stooping to her level. I had a co-worker who loved to try to call me out on large email chains with my bosses. My first instinct was to want to fight back and defend myself, but I found it was best to speak with her directly about any issue and resolve it off chain, or if she is being a moron, just respond coolly to the chain with the answer. They ended up have less of an impact on me, and I think she ended up doing it less too.

It sounds like your boss blew you off last time. What was the conversation about? Just that Abby is being kind of an ass to you? That won't get you anywhere. If you go to your boss, frame it about process, streamlining work and good communication. I don't know enough about the way the process is working now, but maybe you can say there needs to be clarity on who is responsible for what or something like that to avoid work being duplicated or falling through the cracks.

Of course, if she is making any direct comments about resenting your disability status, certainly document that or make sure you save those emails, and consider involving HR.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:03 PM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

When she is directing you to do her work, or when she is telling you to not do parts of your own -- why are you listening to her? Also, follow up every single request with her in writing -- when she tells you what to do, when you need information she doesn't share, etc. You don't need to cc the boss, but you do need a written trail when she starts complaining.
posted by jeather at 12:09 PM on May 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

Keep a copy of your documentation of this abuse at home. It would be bad to be suddenly terminated and then find yourself locked out of the data that shows your side, because it's all at work or in work accounts.
posted by w0mbat at 12:54 PM on May 21, 2015 [14 favorites]

Where are you? You are being harassed for your disability. Your boss telling you that it is your job to deal with it is actually incorrect, at least in all the US states I've ever worked in. Document this. Go back to your boss and say, "I am happy to work my differences out with [abusive coworker], but I need your help to make it clear that I can't resolve those differences by ceasing to be disabled. I am committed to doing whatever is reasonable to improve our working relationship, but I feel that she is hostile toward me and I need your assistance."

Continue to document. If your request does not get action from your boss, call a lawyer.

Ignore everything I've said if you live someplace that does not consider disability a protected class. :/
posted by pazazygeek at 1:07 PM on May 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Dear Abby, (CC: boss)

Unless otherwise directed by boss, my duties include X, Y, and Z, and they do not include W. I do not need your assistance with X or Y; I need you to deliver A so I can complete Z, and you will need to complete W on your own.

posted by flimflam at 1:12 PM on May 21, 2015 [8 favorites]

Some ways of addressing this are workflow and staffing. Clarify workflow and perform well on what has your name on it, or is associated with your position. If she reaches in, respond from a place of competency and ability - I've got this, thanks for the offer- until that expectation is re-set.

Also, she is focusing on the wrong thing. You report understaffing and high turnover - that is BOTH of your concerns. She can be PLENTY upset about that. She's conjecturing about your condition and needs a reality check. I'm sure you would be happy to loan, or outright GIVE her your disability to help her appreciate what you're going through, especially if she's the rare bird who thinks it's fortune smiling upon someone and she can't see the limitations and differences from pre-disability life. She should be glad that employers work this way as any worker can become disabled. The accommodation process is like having insurance -you have it hoping that you never need it, but are grateful that there is support if you join the group that needs it, and employers retain performing workers with a reasonable investment.

This could also be a point where HR looks at how they train the entire workforce for inclusion. If they do this, maybe she needs more training.
posted by childofTethys at 1:18 PM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you think it's serious, you should start documenting, in paper, in a place not your desk, your interactions not only with Abby but also with your boss regarding Abby's attitude.

It's one thing that Abby is being a passive-aggressive pain in the butt, and you deal with that by being straightforward and hard-working and all of the things that make you look like a good worker and Abby like a troublemaker.

It's another thing that your boss has effectively said that Abby is your problem. You need to document that, because if your boss is ratifying Abby's treatment of you then that can implicate the company as a whole. If Abby's treatment of you is because of your disability or of your taking reasonable accommodations, and your boss is aware of that and not addressing it, then your company may be discriminating against you on the basis of a protected class by creating a hostile environment. I don't know what the law is in your jurisdiction, but this is at least a possible interpretation of your boss's behavior.

Document document document. And maybe you're not yet to the point of talking to a lawyer, but start looking for a good plaintiff-side employment lawyer or civil rights lawyer, just so you know who you are going to call if it comes to it.
posted by gauche at 1:52 PM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Check on your employer's internal EEO reporting process and consider using it if something blatent occurs. Also, regarding high turnover - any chance it's related to Abby? If it's your supervisor - it may be worth it to go over their head, especially if you see yourself working for the same employer x years from now if the supervision improves and you're working with more people who coalesce as a team with you, out-performing Abby (or at least dilute her foibles) and also join you on managing her intrusions. Just floating balloons here. You know the dynamic best.
posted by childofTethys at 2:20 PM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, so question - I have requested accomodation but have not yet received formal accomodation from HR (they want paperwork from my doctor and I'm in the process) - the accomodation I received was at my direct-supervisor level. Does this change any of the advice considering Abby is upset that I'm even asking for or getting any accomodation, but I haven't received the Official Nod from HR yet?
posted by corb at 2:26 PM on May 21, 2015

She consistently cc's my boss and even our head Big Boss on emails to me, complaining of really minor matters.

The email thing Abby is doing to you? She's being very strategic indeed. You could learn a lot from her if she wasn't such a hater who finds you frustrating. This is how she will be promoted ahead of you - I doubt she wants you fired in the near term because that would create more work for her, but if/when new people are hired to replace those who left? Watch out. She wants to be the boss of you, and so she is acting like she already has the job she wants and she has your boss' support. And keeping an email trail is precisely what previous AskMes have suggested people in Abby's shoes do when they feel they are doing more than their share of the work because so-and-so is out on leave, and a bunch of people just left the department, etc. It sucks, but she probably has a leg up on being perceived as more competent than you because she has been able to show up and do good work. It's not fair, because you are living with a disability that's not your fault, but that's what it is.

Take an honest, cold, hard look at your own work product. Are you sure you are consistently meeting expectations? Are you making your boss look good in front of her/his boss? Your work needs to be unassailable. You need to be perceived as a team-player. IANYL, and this is not legal advice at all. It's not necessarily per se discrimination for a boss to tell an employee they must maintain cordial relationships with their coworkers, and it sounds like your employer has made reasonable accommodations for you and given you time off. Find out if you are a "qualified individual with a disability" under the ADA and under the law of your state -- because not all disabilities are protected. Also, there are some limits to legal protections: an employer isn't necessarily required to accommodate an employee by lowering performance or productivity standards, changing or eliminating essential job functions, or providing personal use items, etc. Talk to an employment law attorney in your jurisdiction sooner rather than later if you suspect you may have a legal issue, sure, but your best bet for turning things around at work is to work smarter, produce excellent and timely work product, and do not initiate Abby complaints that involve your boss who already so clearly told you he's not interested in hearing that you do not get along. Let Abby whine about you all she wants and IF the boss calls you to a meeting on it, be all "Wow, I don't know what she's talking about or why she keeps bringing stuff up -- we get along great as far as I'm concerned. Maybe she's mad at the people who left and is taking her anger out on me because I'm the only one still here? Obviously, I don't have a problem with her personally at all, and I'm sorry she didn't address this with me directly-- I'll talk to her, boss. Thanks."

How direct are you comfortable being with Abby? Because I might take Abby aside privately and get your conflict out into the open 1:1 -- BTW, passive-aggressive personality types can't stand this! "Hey Abby, thank you for being so understanding and following the law on this one, even though you've said you don't agree with it at all and you resent me for having gotten the disability accommodations to which I am legally entitled. I would just HATE to have to pursue an HR complaint against your employee record personally if you don't knock it off with the passive-aggressive commentary about how you don't think I should get accomodations for a disability you don't think is serious. It is serious, Abby, and when it comes to my disability, you don't know what you're talking about. So while I know you've been feeling frustrated and like you need to email the bosses about each and every little thing I do because you don't trust me to get the job done because I'm disabled, unfortunately for you, I do know my rights, Abby. Understand? Good talk. I'm so glad we worked this out like adults. Have a great rest of your day now."
posted by hush at 2:28 PM on May 21, 2015 [20 favorites]

Response by poster: Find out if you are a "qualified individual with a disability" under the ADA and under the law of your state -- because not all disabilities are protected.

FWIW my disability is very much ADA protected - there is even a helpful webpage on the ADA site that uses as an example of an accomodation for my disability one of the accomodations I'm asking for. I don't doubt it will clear through HR, they're just requiring to talk to my doctor before it becomes officially in writing.
posted by corb at 3:10 PM on May 21, 2015

do you actually KNOW that Abby's a mean old hag who hates the disabled? That is, has she actually told you what you say is the reason she's acting out, i.e., because she doesn't think your disability is that serious and shouldn't have been accommodated?

I ask this because if that's actually the case, I agree with the advice to document the shit out of it and take it to HR, because her harassment is muddying the company's ADA compliance.

But...if you're just assuming that, I'd investigate if her beef is actually that the accommodation changed her workflow or workload or created some other problem FOR HER (perceived or real) that could be addressed via process or staffing. I guess it seems weird to me that she even knows about your disability accommodation in any kind of detail at all, much less that she's punishing you for it in abstract, and think it's much more likely that this is a reaction to some impact on her. Not defending what sounds like crappy-at-best behavior on your coworker's part, but if that's the case it should be your boss' job to sort out and address whatever the actual issue is. Well-designed and supported accommodations shouldn't result in team resentment.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:08 PM on May 21, 2015

Sorry, I should have been clearer - I did see in your question that Abby's talked about the reasons, but still I think it's worth investigating why she's had such a strong reaction. Like, if it's not affecting her at all why would she care?

I know these people exist - score keepers who watch co-workers' hours and who got a desk by a window, etc. - but even they are usually motivated by a sense of personal unfairness rather than rabid company loyalty or abstract 'justice', which seems frankly bizarre to me.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:20 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Everyone else jumped ship en masse? What are you waiting for!

Sounds like there are some serious internal problems. Jump before the ship sinks.
posted by jbenben at 4:24 PM on May 21, 2015

I have requested accommodation but have not yet received formal accommodation from HR (they want paperwork from my doctor and I'm in the process) - the accommodation I received was at my direct-supervisor level. Does this change any of the advice considering Abby is upset that I'm even asking for or getting any accommodation, but I haven't received the Official Nod from HR yet?

If I were in your shoes, I would do things in the following order, then:

Making the assumption that what you need on record is a diagnosis or some sort of statement that you need to miss certain time/hour whatever for X type of medical treatment or accommodation. Also making the assumption that you have worked with this physician for a while. So can you call your physician's office and request a letter as soon as it convenient for them? Then deliver it in as fast as possible without compromising your privacy (maybe you can pick it up)? But I think you can speed up the paperwork vs. waiting until the next appointment, requesting paperwork, etc.

Then as soon as you have the paperwork on record and HR gives the official blessing, I would show them the email or whatever type evidence you have gathered. After rereading your initial presentation of the question, I would only present stuff that is directly linked. But an official word/retraining/whatever might help this person lower the rate of escalation.

Also nthing Hush, Flimflam, and dothers that have made a comment to be more proactive in your email with your boss. I would not engage in the petty complaints back and forth, but things like:

-At the end of the week, send an email to your boss, with a bullet type list with all the things that you have down for the week and/or is in progress.

If you get stuck on writing a TP report because your coworker doesn't want to share? Just cc the person, your boss something along the lines of -

Dear team,

I have finished the TP report, and plan to give it to [Boss] tomorrow. Do you have the information so it can be included? Or do you have an ETA for that piece of information? Just let me know so I can accommodate the project deadline.

Best regards

But the idea is to 1) proactively address that you are doing your job, and completing required tasks, and 2) if colleague is throwing wrenches to make you look bad, politely point out that you are waiting for things from colleague. My guess is colleague will start to deliver if others notice this.

If something comes from HR, too, then it might be squashed for a while.
posted by Wolfster at 4:24 PM on May 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Ok. The more I think about it the more mind-boggling I find any scenario where someone says "I'm being a butt to you because I disagree with your disability accommodation" and is not disciplined right away, either on the spot (if a supervisor was present) or as soon as your email about it hits your supervisor's and HR manager's inboxes. Like, at the speed of light. I've worked in all kinds of environments from tiny non-profits to huge CYA-culture corporations and cannot think of any circumstances in which the situation and discriminatory employee would not have been dealt with immediately, because forget intra-team drama they create an exposure problem for the company.

If this is what happened, your boss knows about it, and he still shrugged, it's not ever going to get better because your boss is dumber than a bag of hammers and your workplace is extremely messed up. It sounds like this might be the case anyway, seeing your update about the turnover--if this is how it went down yeah go ahead and document everything but do it while you look for a new job.
posted by peachfuzz at 6:13 PM on May 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh wow, hush ftw!
posted by vignettist at 7:58 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

FWIW my disability is very much ADA protected - there is even a helpful webpage on the ADA site that uses as an example of an accomodation for my disability one of the accomodations I'm asking for. I don't doubt it will clear through HR, they're just requiring to talk to my doctor before it becomes officially in writing.

It sounds like you should definitely Get a lawyer [MeFi Wiki]. Assistance with requests for a reasonable accommodation or other legal issues may be available from a local disability rights advocacy organization, and a directory of legally based advocacy organizations for each state and U.S. territory is maintained by the National Disability Rights Network. The Disability Rights Bar Association also offers an online directory of attorneys that can be searched by state.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:05 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

She's not my supervisor

That's the key point, right there. Regardless of whether you and Abby get along, and regardless of whether your boss seems to think it's your job to accommodate Abby's opinion of whether your disability was legitimate -- which is nonsense, as it's none of her business -- the problem here seems to be that someone who is not your supervisor is acting like one, and your boss seems to be letting her get away with it right now.

The problem has nothing to do with how anyone feels. The problem is strictly that she is overstepping her authority, with a side dish of your boss not doing his job and putting a stop to it. That seems to me an issue to take to the Big Boss. I don't see how that situation is tolerable, and her feelings about your disability wouldn't justify it even if they were legitimate, which they are not.
posted by Gelatin at 5:11 AM on May 22, 2015

(As often with work issues, the advice to document as much as possible is of course sound. And I wondered, since your boss' attitude is that you need to accommodate Abby, instead of you both needing to work together to get along, if that doesn't hint that he sympathizes with Abby's position, which obviously might complicate matters, but is still contrary to the spirit of ADA.)
posted by Gelatin at 5:25 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

*THIS* is what HR was made for. Not your supervisor, not your colleague, but human resources. Go to human resources. Put everything down on paper and give it to them. They HAVE to resolve this issue, otherwise they are upholding a hostile environment that exists because of your disability.

posted by hal_c_on at 9:45 AM on May 22, 2015

Response by poster: Just wanted to final update - I was eventually fired because of Abby, but thanks to my documentation, I was able to negotiate relatively generous severance and a letter of reference in exchange for my agreeing not to sue, which I didn't have the mental energy for anyway. Subsequently, both my replacement and my other non-Abby coworker were also let go, in part because of conflict with Abby.

However, I will say that since leaving that workspace, my mental health is improved immensely.
posted by corb at 9:03 AM on January 18, 2016

« Older Burgled on Tuesday. Still can't leave the house.   |   Men's Jacket ID Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.