Abuse at work? Pattie Hunt Sinacole explains how to react
How to Respond to Concerns, When Managers Ignore the Behavior
Q: My question is how do you deal with constant abuse of a colleague by their supervisor. Sometimes he threatens her, and I know she feels targeted. Managers just turn their cheeks and it’s out of control. Don’t say I should skip it because it’s not an option. There are others here who are aware of the situation and do nothing. This is going to have a detrimental effect on this woman who is being abused and on the workplace. It’s become more of an issue now that we’re working in a hybrid way in the office. I wonder if it behaved like that when we were working remotely as well.
A: This situation seems very upsetting. Unfortunately, many employees feel trapped in abusive situations like this, especially if they depend on a job, often for benefits and/or income. I commend you for asking the question on behalf of a colleague. I would never suggest you ignore it, especially if it’s abusive. I agree with you that you, and others, can be negatively affected by seeing someone being abused at work. A few questions and suggestions:
- Has a complaint already been filed? I understand that others are aware of the situation. I suggest you contact your HR representative. Stopping in the HR office might be a good first step. I will compile my notes ahead of time and include examples and dates if you can. If you feel comfortable, you can follow up by email thanking the HR professional for their time. If you email, you’ll have a “timestamp,” so to speak, of when you notified HR of your concern. Most employers have a “no retaliation” policy if an employee raises a concern in the workplace. However, I understand that moving forward is a risk. Some companies may have a policy against retaliation, but sometimes it’s concerning whether they actually “live” it.
- Does your employer offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? Often, an EAP can help an employee (and you) through stressful and abusive situations. Depending on your relationship with your co-worker, you may suggest that they contact your company’s EAP.
- Does your employer have a harassment policy? Or policies related to bullying, respectful workplace and/or code of conduct? I don’t have a lot of detailed information about what’s going on in your workplace, but it sounds like it’s worth exploring.
- More and more companies have policies on workplace violence, which cover a wide range of abuse, harassment and other types of threatening behavior. Does your employer have one?
- Supervisors and managers must adopt appropriate and respectful behavior. Some of these behaviors may be illegal. Although there are no Massachusetts laws dealing with disrespectful behavior in the workplace, this does not prevent an employer from establishing policies regarding conduct in the workplace. An employer can take action and remedy the behavior of that supervisor, if the behavior violates an internal policy.
- If internal processes aren’t improving your work environment, your colleague might contact an external resource. A lawyer is an option. The Massachusetts Bar Association (www.massbar.org) is a resource that can help you find legal counsel to guide your colleague.
I would review any published policies or manuals that may be available to you. I commend you for not passively accepting this behavior. When employers accept this behavior, it sets the standard of behavior (vs. policies which should set the standard).
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