Hostile Work Environment: How to Resolve Harassment in the Work Place
What to do about harassment
If you are involved in a controversial situation at work, it is important to keep careful documents of the details of what has occurred to the best of your honest recall as soon as possible. This is imperative because the mind has a way of forgetting or twisting the events into your own personal perspective. As time goes on it will be more and more difficult to ‘accurately’ relay this information should the incident be called into question with management.
It is even more important for you to document what occurred if you have a verbal or physical altercation. If you are the perpetrator you should expect that your behavior will be reported and written up in a form of disciplinary action. If you are the ‘target’ of an argument or have been manhandled it is just as important to remember details of how it began and seek management assistance. Remember: it is always important to follow the chain of command. This supports your case.
In situations where you are the target and your boss is the perpetrator who is writing you up for unsubstantiated disciplinary action, document your side of the story and jot down names of witnesses who may be questioned should there be an investigation. Then, report your manager to the person he reports to-follow the chain of command. If you are unsuccessful in getting someone’s attention report this to the human resource department.
Immediately check your employee handbook for information which may be helpful in filing a claim against your manager. If there is a form, complete this. If not, inquire with H.R. about the appeal process. You may not be able to save your job, but you can go down fighting and let it be known what your grievances are.
If you belong to a union immediately contact your union representative and make your report known through her. In many companies there is no union for employees to join and you are on your own to defend your case. That is where good organization comes in handy.
Use Human Resources
Typically, there will be a meeting with a human resource representative who is a neutral party. If this occurs when you are the target and your boss is handing you a disciplinary action form that you read and disagree with you do not have to sign it. Although this may appear to be an insubordinate action on your part keep in mind that you will need to advocate for yourself at a very emotionally charged moment. To lose your temper will not help your case. To wilt like a wall flower will also be detrimental.
Refusing to sign a disciplinary action form is not illegal. You must jot on the form that you are the employee who disagrees with the accusation and will be submitting an attached letter explaining your side. Then, return to H.R. for an additional meeting away from your boss, to explain your letter and request its attachment. If there is an appeal process make sure you initiate this before its deadline passes and you lose your opportunity.
The appeal will buy you some time and allow you to pursue a longer plan of action. Your H.R. rep should advise you step by step on what to expect next, but again: check your policies and employee handbook.
Organization is the key to having you and your case be taken seriously, should it get to the point where you will be attending a meeting with the offensive parties. Having a calendar of memory joggers, (a simple date book with a notation: i.e. ‘incident’ 4-27-11; call to H.R. 4-28-11, etc.), is sufficient to help recall dates.
Next, place copies of appeal letters: make three as a general rule-one for yourself, one for administration who is examining your complaint and a third to jot notes on during the meeting; copies of emails; letters or affidavits from witnesses; copies of disciplinary action forms, etc. in pocket binder or portable file.
Know what it is that you want out of the corrective action. Are you seeking a dismissal of unwarranted charges; your position back; your unpaid wages? It is important that the clearer you are about the outcome the more direct and confident you can be in negotiations.
Call a Friend
Meetings with human resource representatives or upper management can be very intimidating, but realize that you have nothing to lose if you are already threatened with losing your job. Rather than being nervous make a point to remind yourself you are doing nothing more than standing up for what you deserve, and then go for it. It brings honor to you and it often brings a respect from co-workers.
Utilize your support system whenever you are going through a highly emotional situation. Let your support team, (one or two key players), know when you will be heading into a meeting and ‘bookend’ a support call. Bookending means you make a quick call alerting the other person of the meeting and you listen to the encouragement and cheer. After the meeting you check in with that person once again for a few minutes to de-brief. It keeps you focused on the ‘prize’, (recall the goal you have set for the corrective action). It also reminds you that you are not in this alone.
The Dance of Negotiation
Finally, be willing to compromise. In the process of negotiation it is a little give, a little take. If you want blood, an apology from an errant manager, or ‘everything’, whatever everything means to you, you will be sadly disappointed and may actually end up with nothing.
In my experience, my new manager wanted to terminate me on grounds of insubordination, and she was attempting to build her case on fictitious information. As part of the termination process there was an investigation. This meant I had to meet with the Director of Nursing. I was in the meeting for one and a half hours. I was grilled by a woman who could put the best poker players to shame with her blank, attentive affect. I was aware that this was one shrewd woman who would hang onto everything I said and relay it back to me with a series of, ‘what if’s, why’s and other probing questions. She had the memory of an elephant and brought up incidents that she recalled from some of my earliest encounters that were not written in the books-off handed remarks about my character, personality and attitude.
In turn, I countered by taking my time, anticipating the direction of the questions and bringing the talk back to the issue at hand; giving examples of proper nursing standards I employ; offering names of witnesses; and emphasizing flaws in the allegations.
In the end, the D.O.N. set aside the termination of employment charges, and supported my transfer to another part of the hospital. After our meeting she brought the H.R. Director into the room to begin working on that next step. What a relief to know I was not being terminated after all.
It is very gratifying standing up and fighting for what you feel is right and have justice delivered. I am thrilled and eternally grateful for the wonderful family and friends across the globe that has been cheering me on during this very stressful time-many blessings to you all.
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