Bullying or Harassment or Am I Missing Something?

by Evil HR Lady on August 11, 2016

I was brought to your site by fate, and have finally decided you are probably the best person to give me advise with my current situation. I don’t do so well with ambiguity so your straight forward demeanor is exactly why I am finally writing this email.

In a nutshell, I believe my supervisor intimidates and harasses everyone she can. She is incredibly elusive, manipulative, and micromanages all aspects of my job, to the point where it is becoming difficult to complete tasks because she will withhold information. Here is a brief summary of the important details – when I first started working at my current job, one of my favorite things was the flexibility. If my son had a doctor’s appointment, or a meeting at his school, or the time when my car wouldn’t start, my boss was thrilled to allow me to make up the missing time. She would frequently tell me I could work from home (as long as I had approval from her) and that the company enjoys letting their employees have flexibility. So when I did have something I needed to leave work early for, or arrive a little late, I would usually make the time up instead of using PTO. I would always obtain approval to do so, and I would always provide notification of the appointment (or whatever it was) well within the company policy for Excused Absences.

It was never brought to my attention that this was problematic until 6 months after I started working there, when I was written up for attendance issues. This write up also came a day after I (unknowingly and accidentally) informed the Big Boss of some changes that were made to a large account under the direction of my boss, which the Big Boss didn’t know about, causing my boss to be reprimanded. I don’t disagree with her that there were days I requested to leave early or come in late, although I do not believe it was excessive. Included in my write up were scheduled doctors appointments (2 for my kids, 1 for me), a total of 3 sick days, and 2 dates when I first began working there in which I experienced a miscarriage at work; she was aware of that fact, also. I believe the write up she gave me was a direct result of the reprimand she received from her boss.

Now that you have the foundation of the story, the rest is very easy to lay out. After the write-up, I was reassigned to the largest account our company has, and was assigned as the sole manager for them. Every other client we have has 2 managers, at least. It is well known my account is difficult and overwhelming, and my boss continues to interrupt me multiple times a day, often times just to tell me she needs to talk to me, but “not right now”. I eventually went to HR to complain about her behavior and how I felt like she was harassing me and was met with an HR manager that did not document a single thing I said, nor did he bother to view any of the documentation I brought, and actually responded with “put your big girl pants on and confront her.”

Shortly after that meeting, I began to have “episodes” which let me to request a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Here are the details of that – I sent the request to my boss. 3 days later she requested Medical Documentation, which I returned within the time frame I was given. 21 days later, she stopped at my desk and I was offered an alternative accommodation that has absolutely nothing to do with the difficulties I described in the initial request. (That was it. No interactive process, no HR present for the conversation, nothing.) I figured I would try their suggestion and see if it would work before mentioning my thoughts, and on the second day of my “rearranged schedule” I was called/text 6 times while on the “modified break” they provided, all by my boss wanting to know where I was and what I was doing. (I was NOT over my time limit. In fact, I was at the beginning of a 30 minute break she suggested.) I feel like I have been denied the interactive process the ADA mandates, resulting in their failure to accommodate as well as continual harassment when utilizing the suggested accommodation.

Your thoughts? Am I being a whiny baby? Overly sensitive? Or is this truly harassment? I got NOTHING from HR last time and I don’t want to go to them again if I’m not sure what I’m experiencing is truly worth bringing up. I would appreciate any help or advice you’re willing to share; I feel like I’m going crazy and I don’t know if I’m driving myself there or if someone else has the wheel!

Okey-dokey, let’s unpack this because there are a ton of things going on here.

  • You took advantage of flexible scheduling with your boss’s approval.
  • Your boss got in trouble when you told her boss about some changes.
  • Your boss likes to micro-manage in general.
  • You were re-assigned to a complex client with no help.
  • HR told you to put on your big girl panties and deal with it.
  • You have a health issue that has started to cause problems.
  • You requested an accommodation, which was denied, but another given in its place.
  • Your boss is interfering with the given accommodation.

If I missed something, I apologize.

Your boss seems to have a few personality challenges, but I’m not going to label her a micro-manager because she did allow you tremendous flexibility until she got punished. Micro-managers aren’t typically big on flexibility.

It’s pretty clear (if all you said is true) that you were punished for telling her boss about the changes. She can’t, of course, punish you directly for that. So, instead, she’s punishing you for using flexibility that she encouraged. Nice.

When you complained about all of this, HR told you to handle it yourself. I’m not sure I entirely disagree. While it would be nice if HR swooped in and corrected all problems, we can’t. HR doesn’t have that type of power (generally). HR serves as advisers, not bosses. As a result, sometimes all they can do is give advice.

Because this happened before the ADA request, their response was reasonable. You needed to go back to your boss and have a discussion about the write up and the new client assignment.

You: I’m confused as to why I was written up for attendance. Every time I’ve come in late or left early it’s been with your permission and I’ve made up the hours. I had no idea I was violating any company rules. Can you please explain this to me?

When that was resolved, you should have handled the client situation.

You: Thanks for giving me Client X! I’m really excited about the challenge. However, all other clients have at least two people supporting them, and I’m alone here. Are there plans to bring someone else over to this client? If not, can you help me figure out a plan to serve them well as a single person?

But, then the health issue got thrown in.

I’ll be honest with you. HR and managers see this all the time.

Manager to perfectly healthy employee: You are very bad for doing X

Perfectly healthy employee morphs into disabled employee: Aaack! I’m sick; I need accommodations!

Now, sometimes this is truly just a coincidence. Bad things happen at inopportune moments. And stress from whatever the bad situation can make an underlying condition (mental or physical) worse, meaning that the punishment directly causes the disability. But it happens in this order so often that everyone is skeptical. Partly this happens because the employee never was perfectly healthy, but there’s such a stigma for having a health issue, that the person likes to just muddle through. However, once they are in hot water, they realize that muddling through isn’t working, and so they ask for accommodations.

I strongly encourage you (general reader you), if you have a problem that might require accommodations in the future, to get it on record before it becomes a problem or as soon as it starts to become a problem, because otherwise, you look like you’re making up a problem in order to get out of a discipline issue.

I’m not at all saying that is the case with you–I’m fully willing to believe that the stress from the job exacerbated your problem–it’s just that this is what your manager is seeing. She’s undoubtedly seen it before and she’ll see it again. So you said “I need an accommodation” and you dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s and she didn’t give you the accommodation you requested.

Since you didn’t mention what you requested, I have no idea if it was at all reasonable. It probably was, but the interactive process did happen here. You said, “I have a problem, and I need X.” Your boss responded with “That won’t work for me. Let’s do Y.” At this point you could have said, “Hmmm, Y doesn’t actually help with my problem. What about Z?” But, you didn’t. You said okay.

And now your boss, who is angry because you got her in trouble (which is her own darn fault), and believes that you made up a disability, is being a weenie about your accommodation. This is precisely when you need to get HR involved.

I know they weren’t helpful the last time, but this is an entirely different issue. While HR can’t always solve the bad boss problem, they are generally better equipped and have the authority to solve the ADA issue.

So, here’s what I recommend. You go to your boss and say, “Y isn’t really working out for me. I’d like to arrange a meeting with you, me and our HR person to go through the interactive process required by ADA to see if we can come up with a solution that works for both of us. I’m going to go ahead and get that on everyone’s calendar.”

Then sit down and come up with a solution. This doesn’t solve the complex client problem you have, you’ll still need to deal with that, but it should resolve the ADA issue. HR should be keenly aware of their responsibility to come up with a workable solution.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Qld Whistleblowers Action Group August 11, 2016 at 2:07 pm

“…after I (unknowingly and accidentally) informed the Big Boss of some changes that were made to a large account under the direction of my boss…”

Sorry to inform you that you are a whistleblower. Your story is how most people become whistleblowers. Because many whistleblowers are inadvertent (their intention is to correct a problem rather than to report misconduct) there is a move to redefine whistleblowing from the act of reporting the problem to the reprisals. ie, whistleblowers become whistleblowers because they experience reprisals for doing some aspect of their job.

Go to some whistleblower sites and see how typical your story is. Then get on to some job sites and look for another job. You inadvertently made your line manager look bad. She will not forgive or forget. Management will believe/support her rather than you. Put in a written statement to the head of HR that you reported xxx to the big boss. This makes you a whistleblower under the yyy legislation and you are requesting whistleblower protection. Use the relevant legislation as a guide to how your word your letter.

I don’t think this will stop the bullying (which are reprisals), but it is essential to ensure that your status as whistleblower and right to whistleblower protection are on record. Then start looking for another job.

Reply

Evil HR Lady August 11, 2016 at 2:10 pm

It doesn’t sound like true whistleblowing to me. It sounds like a change in practice with the client–not something illegal uncovered.

The manager is retaliating for being busted, but that retaliation isn’t illegal in and of itself.

Reply

Qld Whistleblowers Action Group August 11, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Good point. Different laws and definitions exist in each country. Illegality of the conduct reported is not a requirement in Queensland for the basis of a public interest disclosure. For example, research fraud is not necessarily illegal, but reporting it would qualify as a public interest disclosure.

Reply

Elizabeth West August 11, 2016 at 4:04 pm

Ugh. I feel for you, OP. I’m going through this accommodation mess right now, though I don’t have a micromanaging *squid* boss, fortunately. In my case, the job itself is changing in ways that make NO sense, with little information given (and I’m not the only one who is going, “Whaaaat,”), and I don’t think they really understand the problem. I may need to write a letter to Suzanne myself.

You can definitely bring the ADA stuff to HR’s attention. And even if your boss continues to be a squid and you can’t get her help or guidance with the client issue, at least you know you did everything you could to work it out.

Reply

anonymous August 11, 2016 at 4:48 pm

Girl, go look for another job TODAY, but not on your work computer. Your boss is probably monitoring every keystroke. This won’t get better. Your boss is a psycho. I’ve been there, done that, and I have the t-shirt. Well, its actually a polo. But anyway, she can fire you for just about anything in a “right to work” state. I was fired for transposing 2 out of 16 digits in a serial number, not because I filed for FMLA due to a pregnancy the prior month. GET OUT before you GET FIRED.

Reply

Jeanne August 15, 2016 at 7:10 am

I have that t-shirt also. I was thisclose to being fired and scraped by because the boss screwed up in an email.

Reply

OP August 12, 2016 at 9:13 am

First I’d like to thank you for your response. I have read it about a dozen times, and I will probably read it a dozen more before I have my thoughts in order. There are so many things compiled into this issue that I didn’t know where to begin or where to end. You have helped me tremendously, so thank you – and everyone else that commented – for your honest feedback.

The one thing I’d like to clarify is the accommodation request, because I think it’s probably what is bothering me the most. I have narcolepsy with cataplexy. I was diagnosed about 10 years ago and fortunately, I have had tremendous response to the medication. In the most awful coincidence, my neurologist disappeared (literally, was never seen again) when this whole mess was at it’s peak. I believe the sudden discontinuation of my meds with the stress I was under opened the flood gates for my episodes to begin again. (To add, my narcolepsy was never a “secret” – the entire office witnessed a cataplexy attack on the third day I worked there and I have continuously engaged in and welcomed conversation about it!) Ultimately, it became unsafe for me to continue driving, which was what led to the accommodation request. My husband was going to have to take me to work and pick me up, and in order for that to work I requested a flexible starting time. I was very upfront and open about what was happening and why I was requesting what I was; I believe my exact words were “due to the increasing episodes I’ve been having, it is no longer safe for me to drive. My husband is going to start dropping me off before he goes to work and picking me up at the end of the day. Due to the variability of his schedule, I would like to request a flexible start time. I will still work 8 hours/day with regular lunch breaks, but a start time between 8-9 would ensure a safe arrival while following attendance rules.” Their solution was to combine the 2 15 minute breaks I receive into 1 30 minute break. I’m unsure how this is an effective alternative, and was unsure when she proposed it, but I thought I read somewhere that in order for an accommodation to be unreasonable (absent undue hardship) a good faith effort on my part was needed to show it was ineffective. Am I mistaken on that?

Again, thank you so much for taking the time to respond! You have given me a different perspective to look at some of these things, which has allowed me to refocus on what is and what isn’t important.

Reply

Evil HR Lady August 12, 2016 at 10:55 am

Ummm, yeah, what she offered wasn’t appropriate at all. Definitely, go to HR to have a formal conversation about your ADA accommodation. A flexible start time should be totally reasonable for most (but not all) positions.

Reply

Jeanne August 15, 2016 at 7:18 am

The big problem is that bullying is legal as long as it isn’t about a protected class. If your boss wants to bully you because you got her in trouble, you have no recourse. That’s why HR doesn’t get involved. The ADA thing makes it more complicated. Deal with that separately. Get the accomodation you need and keep doing your job as best you can. Give yourself a little time to get past the immediate anger for the bullying so you can decide if you want to stay or to job hunt.

Reply

SRC January 18, 2018 at 6:51 pm

Unfortunately, this is what has happened to me. I had to go on two FMLA occurrences in 2014, one for my mom’s cancer, and one when I got diagnosed with MS at the same time. I had 12 weeks of leave between vacation, sick, comp, etc. I exhausted it all and 3 weeks without pay during this year.

It is almost unbearable anymore. In 2016, I took of 1/2 hour early to go to urgent care to get medication for bronchitis and was written up because policy says if you don’t have any sick time left, you get leave without pay and MAY be subject to discipline. Since I wasn’t covered for FMLA, I was required to use sick time. That’s ok. No sick time, is doc time (LWOP). I had over 100 hours of vacation time, 40 hours of comp time, and two floating holidays at that time. I didn’t dispute the LWOP but I was hurt that I got written up for 1/2 hour.

Then in 2017, again, I took off 8 hours sick (still had my bank of vacation and one floating holiday left for 2017) and got a step 2 discipline for having LWOP for taking off because I had to put drops in my eyes every two hours for pink eye. I had it for a week previous to this day and came to work suffering and looking terrible.

We received 8 hours of sick leave every month, and I usually have it exhausted with my own FMLA, which are only my neurology appointments and tests. I have never taken off because of my MS symptoms. I have also had to take my mother to her oncology appointments and testing and the pain management clinic for her pain pump, so I never have any sick leave. I have built my vacation back up to over 120 hours and still have some comp time built up.

We have just hired another admin asst in the dept. (Nov 2017) This person, while well qualified and good worker, has missed 12 days for migraines, isn’t covered by FMLA and is on her 6 month probationary hire period. She has missed this many days and her 90 days isn’t even up. Yet, she has not been let go. I don’t begrudge her at all, I like her, but I can’t help but see the disparity in treatment.

What have I done? My new coworker has told me she can see that this manager is un-supportive of me and very condescending, making comments and snide remarks in front of any other employees in the area clearly make me seem like I am incompetent and/or a terrible employee.

The latest was recently I had a scheduled vacation, and my uncle passed away on the first day (Monday) of my vacation. I texted her to let her know of this occurrence. She gave me her condolences and even followed up later in the week to see how I was doing. When I returned the following week, I asked if I could exchange two vacation days for bereavement leave. Our policy states employees are “entitled” to 3 paid days of bereavement. I was denied and told that no one was allowed to get bereavement if they were already on vacation, since you were already off. She then told me that she didn’t get to switch her vacation for sick leave when she was in another state on vacation and was ill. I approached her later and told her that if someone else asked for the same thing, to not compare a death in the family to an illness, because it was not the same, and frankly I was offended by her comment, which didn’t make me anymore endearing to her. I might add that one other employee had this situation in the past and was allowed to exchange vacation time to bereavement leave.

Anyway, I just had to get that off my chest. I don’t know what to do because in 5 years I can draw a full pension and retire from here.

Side story, this manager comes and goes, was reprimanded by the Director for essentially stealing over 40-hours of time by leaving early and coming in late. She got the old Director to let her only work a 32 hour week (and only get paid for 32) for a whole year before he retired so she could have Fridays off and spend it with her kids and build her vacation/sick time up before he left. Currently, she doesn’t have any more time than I do in any category except maybe one extra day of sick time.

Don’t tell me to go to HR, because we ARE the HR department.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: