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Coworker Complaints and Employees' Rights

Updated on August 16, 2011

A Reader Asks a Question

What do you do if an employee complains about her work being disrupted by another employee's loud voice? Asked by hlinane

Too Loud!

A Conumdrum

This is a very interesting question, because during my first full-time job in a major downtown company, employees were not ALLOWED to speak at all during working hours - only on breaks, in the restrooms, and at lunch; and of course, before and after work.

It seems that in 2010, complaints of Individual Rights abuse are lodged every time that a person In the workplace is asked to cease unacceptable behavior. There are so many INDIVIDUAL rights these days, cancelling one other out, that perhaps there are simply no rights left at all - for employers OR workers.

How does any work get done in this country? - One might ask this question.

Speaking in the workplace is mandatory in a number of work sites, in numerous jobs, and among myriad industries. You can't get any work done without verbal communications in these settings. However, some of speech is still inapprorpiate to each individual setting. Workers must police themselves and supervisors must stay aware of these problems. Failing this, Human Reosurces (HR), State EEO regulations, and legal actions can become involved. 

Does your Coworker Break the Sound Barrier?

An F/A-18 Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron One Five One (VFA-151) breaks the sound barrier in the skies over the Pacific Ocean.
An F/A-18 Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron One Five One (VFA-151) breaks the sound barrier in the skies over the Pacific Ocean.


Good Manners Poster Series - Laminated
Good Manners Poster Series - Laminated

Say PLEASE. 8 different posters.

Good Manners Poster Series
Good Manners Poster Series

It's not polite to stare. 8 different posters.


Extremely Annoyed Response

Noisemakers and Mental Health Issues

Some people make noise in order to assert their "power." Usually the Power to Annoy.


Certain individuals engage in constant throat clearing or stomping as they walk, in order to assert themselves as powerful or important and/or to intimidate others. These perpetrators are not those persons that suffer from Tourette's Syndrome, smoker's cough, cancer, an infection - or down below, physical gait problems. They are not those who are unaware of their behaviors. They do it purposely, their feet sometimes encased in high heels on hard floors, sometimes coughing and stomping at once. In the past, I have ignored these people with the result that their behaviors escalated to a point at which they embarrassed themselves and stopped. One, in fact, was fired for this and other such behaviors during work hours. It seems she spent all her time coughing and stomping and missed all her deadlines.

What are the solutions? Ignore these people if you have that type of skill. Wear earplugs if you can. Wear iPod earbuds and listen to something else, if permitted. In the extreme, file a complaint with your supervisor - if it IS the supervisor, file a complaint with HR and cite a hostile work environment.

In the case of a coworker with Tourette's, you may need to quit and go work someplace else.

In the case of a tremendously loud smoker's cough, the person can be advised to seek medical help. You can approach this person politely at first and if no cooperation is obtained, then go to your supervisor for help. Then go up the chain to HR, if needed. You would need to file a statement or complaint that you cannot complete your work because of the inappropriately high levels of noise. This would be a method to use for instances of excessive noise(s), bad body odors, and related matters.

In one local case here, an employee removed one shoe and pounded it on his desktop ala Cold War Nikita Kruschev every time the stomping began from a supervisor in high heels on a linoleum floor. He stopped when she did. Enraged, one day after this drama, she verbally accosted him. He rang out, "If you are allowed to make unnecessary noise, then so I am I!" Happily, the stomping ended. I thought that to be pretty good self defense, without throwing a punch.

EXTREMES: If an employee urinates into the trash can beside his desk, then this is a mental health problem for which you need to go to your supervisor immediately. If the supervisor is not in the work area, leave the floor and notify someone in authority. That party may have Security forces in the building help the person to the company clinic or call the EMTs. Don't try to handle the person alone.


Loud Talkers

If you have nothing to say, say it loud!

Someone once said that; I do not know who. Facts are that you must determine if a Loud Talker in the workplace is

  • Unaware that he is using an outdoor voice;
  • Hard of hearing, partially deaf;
  • Asserting authority; or
  • Being annoying on purpose, because he is a) abusive and dares you to do something about it or b) thinks it's funny - also abusive.

If the coworker is unaware or going deaf, first approach the person in private and discuss the matter. If this does not work or the person is being pompous, intimidating (abusive), or purposefully annoying, then follow the procedures listed in the paragraphs above for noise and other problems.

IF a person who is bothered by the Loud Talker complains to YOU instead of following a procedure that actually works, then tell the person to follow the steps above. If the person will not do it, then tell the person that you do not want to hear any more about it and stay firm in that decision. If all three of you work together, you may have to follow the steps yourself - against the person that is interrupting your work by complaining.  

Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      Thanks, Johnny! I bet you do a fantastic job in HR!

    • Johnnyd44 profile image

      Johnnyd44 5 years ago from Florida

      Ms. Inglish,

      Such a touchy subject handled so professionally! Thank you for providing. I love the videos. You've obviously love your work and have a great sense of humor.

      Thanks for providing and making an HR Guy's day!

      I am looking forward to diving into more of your hubs.

      All the best,


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      DenAnon - This is one of the most difficult situations for a worker to find himself. Speak with your supervisor and HR for advice. If they are unable or unwilling to help the coworker or you, then 20-years-plus-pension may go away pretty quickly when it all gets too annoying.

      Medications exist for patients that can help Tourette's behaviors become milder and less intrusive; and, I've seen a long continuum of varying severity. For instance, for one teen in my therapy exercise class, with lesser symptoms, I said to stop doing those behaviors, and they stopped permenantly for the 5 years he remained with us - relaxation exercises helped him as well. All that's not likely to happen with your coworker. I don't think you can ask HR to insist on medicating a worker, either.

      If no one will help you, then I suggest noise-eliminating headphones/earmuffs, similar to those hunters wear to prevent hearing loss from firearms. The behaviors are harming you and I feel that insisting you take no action to defend yourself is abusive of the company.

      Let me know what HR says.

      In our local University, there is a student with very severe Tourette's symptoms. The library gives him one of the soundproof study rooms to use and he does much work online there. He began going to a nearby coffee shop, patrons were accepting of the Tourette's, but they still all cleared out in just a few days and business plummetted. He went elsewhere, but I don't know if this was on his own or at the request of the owner.

    • profile image

      DenAnon 5 years ago

      I have a Tourette's sufferer in the cube next to me on a job I have just started. I am not sure I can take the constant grunts and outbursts. The advice to seek a new job does not work for me as a 20 year employee with a pension! Any advice on dealing with this?

    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 6 years ago from Michigan

      Following the chain of command is best in these situations. Some people are just loud no matter what, but it makes you wonder how they got the job in the first place. Maybe they know not to talk too loudly when being interviewed, go figure!! Voted/rated.

    • YU_First 1 profile image

      YU_First 1 6 years ago from Uganda

      At our pinnacle are these so called "Managers" who feel that because they are, they can go all out and discuss us simlpe beings and our plights.

      I have recently been stressed out because the HR manager discusses my medical condition with her cohorts (managers) on the phone while standing up in our open space office.

      Its a wacky situation because she will say that it serves me right for eavesdropping, I imagine.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      I agree - I don't know if I'd have thought of it.

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      What he did with a shoe on the desk was ingenious. Thanks for understanding this problem.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      How frustratingly like a mismanaged circus for you. I wish I could make them dress as clowns for halloween at work.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I have. They ignore me and go to the director and make her order the supplies they forgot to order. She hasn't seemed to notice that they have pulled this same scam for almost 3 years now. And the note is STILL on the white board for all to see. Of course, she is one of the ones that forgets to order on Tuesdays as well.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      You've tried ENVRYTHING! I sympathize greatly. What happens if you tell them on Wed that is really IS too late?

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Hmmm, I've tried sending emails regarding things I need to say, but the worst offenders don't or won't read them. So now I do use a lot of hand signals, LOL! (Not offensive ones).

      I have even gone so far as to pick up the object in question and place it in front of them and demo what I'm trying to say. Apparently, some are not able to understand English and must have visuals.

      Oh, I have tried writing on the white board. My message is still up there after 7 months and 3 of the 5 people that need to read it still have not. Or they are ignoring it. (Instructions on how to order supplies on TUESDAYS of EVERY week). Instead, they drop by on Wednesday and ask, "Is it too late to order xyz? I just want to scream sometimes.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Very good subject to raise and you dealt with it very well in you hub.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Life is relationships and how we can establish, maintain and terminate them. Complaints as you noted are dynamic and our responses must be. Great information.

    • muchsuccess2u profile image

      muchsuccess2u 7 years ago from United States

      This is an awesome article. I really enjoyed the very first video. lol

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      Gamer playing. Some people pretend to be deaf in order to get you to repeat yourself and ultimately, to stop talking to them so that they can feel they are controlling you. Some others have you repeat so that they have time to think of an answer.

      Get a small whiteboard and marker and write on it in the high-noise areas instead of talking. If the person complains, write - I am not going to talk to you because you always ask me to repeat. Then walk away.

      If a worker is going physically deaf and won't get medical help, file a complaint. You have that right.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      What about the case where the co-workers are deaf and you have to speak up so they can hear you? Where I work, there is a lot of background noise and my co-workers continually ask "what?" or "huh?" whenever I say something, so I speak up the second time I repeat myself, then they get mad because I'm talking too loud!

      I've gotten to the point where I just won't speak to them at all. If I absolutely have to speak to one of the girls, it's automatic that she makes me repeat myself. Every time! So, I just avoid her. I swear she's totally deaf.

    • Sweetsusieg profile image

      Sweetsusieg 7 years ago from Michigan

      WOW. I can't imagine any of those things happening, but I am sure they do. I would have to laugh at the foot stomper, since they were being silly... so would I.

      Great Hub, Great Advice!

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Personally, I have not problems with my co-workers. It is the most wonderful place to work in the world. But, when I have come up against annoying co-workers, I have generally used compassion and listening to deal with them. If I am annoyed, I try to see it as my problem and try to figure out why I am annoyed and work diligently to change the way I feel. This usually solves the problem for me and makes me feel lots better about the situation. Your examples of extreme co-worker problems are things I have never had to deal with. However, I do deal with students like this all the time and we do use security and the local police.

    • maruthirp profile image

      maruthirp 7 years ago from Hyderabad

      Awesome hub. A variety one. In grown countries people care for every thing.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      I hate those extreme cases like a co-worker urinating in a trash can. Nice advice.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 7 years ago from Northern, California

      Your information is awesome. I love the picture of the Jet breaking the sound barrier! Your note sbout the nothing to say voice becoming louder is perfection. Odd how loud talkers can be the cause of coworkers complaints. As always, good stuff.


    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      Loud talkers and heel stompers are just like the bellowing bulls I wrote about in Dealing with Difficult People. Sometimes you just have to stand up to them. Thanks for reminding us, Patty.