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.

Previous post:

Next post: