I am having an issue at work with a coworker at work that I am hoping you can help me with. This coworker is constantly coming to assumptions that I am doing my job wrong and blaming me for things. Most of the time she is blaming me for things that are not my fault. After I do my research about an incident she is blaming me for I find out I am not the one to blame. She assumes the worst in people and is constantly blaming people for things without doing her due diligence. Her accusations and rude comments are effecting my confidence at work. I emailed her and explained my thoughts to her and she apologized. If she continues to create a hostile environment in my workplace, what should my next be? Is HR or my supervisor obligated to take corrective action if I file a formal complaint?
I could probably just let the title to this stand alone as the answer, but, alas, that would be too easy, and heaven knows I’m long winded. First, praise for you. You took this up directly with her and even got an apology. That? Awesome. I would give you an official EHRL gold star if I had such a thing, but I don’t. If I did, though, it would go to you.
So often people don’t deal directly with the problem person and instead expect someone else to fix it. You didn’t. You took it head on and she even apologized! Amazing. Now, to be clear, you would still be deserving of the gold star even if she had exploded that you’re mean to her and blah, blah, blah. The gold star comes from your actions, not your results.
If she starts in again on the negativity and accusations, first attempt the same thing over again. Remember, she’s been trained by other people for years that behaving this way gets her the results that she wants. So, you’ll have to re-train her. “Jane, you’re doing it again. Accusing me of not doing my job when I’m absolutely doing it. If there is an error, please let me know and I’ll fix it.” Repeated doses of this should solve the problem.
But, if it doesn’t and her apology was a mere anomaly, then yes you can go to your manager and explain what is going on and ask for help in dealing with it. Your manager may refer you to your HR department. A good employee relations person can be invaluable here in coaching not only your co-worker on how to express concern, but you in how to deal with it. But, they aren’t required to do anything by law.
You used the term “hostile environment.” To most people hostile environment means just that–an unpleasant place with a mean person. However, in HR terms, it has a legal definition. Let’s go straight to the EEOC:
The question of liability arises only after there is a determination that unlawful harassment occurred. Harassment does not violate federal law unless it involves discriminatory treatment on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age of 40 or older, disability, or protected activity under the anti-discrimination statutes. Furthermore, the anti-discrimination statutes are not a “general civility code.”4 Thus federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not “extremely serious.”5 Rather, the conduct must be “so objectively offensive as to alter the ‘conditions’ of the victim’s employment.”6The conditions of employment are altered only if the harassment culminated in a tangible employment action or was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.7 Existing Commission guidance on the standards for determining whether challenged conduct rises to the level of unlawful harassment remains in effect.
Okay, that’s boring and you skipped over it. I know you did. So, I’ll break it down. In order for there to be a true hostile environment (and a requirement for the company to act) the following must occur:
- Harassment has to violate the law, which means your co-worker must be treating you this way because of your race, sex, etc. If she’s an equal opportunity jerk, she hasn’t broken the law.
- It’s more than just teasing, or being rude. It has to be so severe that it affects your ability to do your job. In this case, her complaining, even if it was because she didn’t like your religion, wouldn’t be that severe. Because co-workers don’t have hire/fire power over you, it’s not normal that they can even be obnoxious enough (on their own) to create a hostile environment.
- There is some tangible effect. For instance, she complained and lied and you got demoted.
All of these things have to come together. Since none of them did, it’s not illegal harassment. Obnoxious? Yes. Should your manager deal with it if you can’t resolve it on your own? Absolutely. Is she required by law to do so? Nope.