When my boss is upset, he stomps through the office and yells “who’s going to pay for this!” or threatens “there’s going to be blood in the water.” My coworkers and I all put our heads down and all hope we’re not the one he picks on. We’ve each been subjected to endless insults, but we’ve all been afraid to protest the situation. I leave the office many nights in tears.
Things were better when the pandemic led to a temporary office closure. My boss sent horrid emails, but at least he didn’t show up at my work station.
Three weeks ago, the office reopened. It was maybe the fact that I didn’t have to deal with my boss for close to two months that made me realize how unbearable the situation was. I went to Human Resources and asked for help. Big mistake. The HR officer listened and I thought she’d help. Instead, she told my boss everything I’d said. Isn’t HR supposed to keep confidential what we tell them?
Now my boss is out to get rid of me. Twice last week he wrote me up for minor infractions. Neither write-up was fair but I don’t have the documentation I’ll need to disprove I didn’t make the errors.
I’m scared I’m going to lose my job and it’s worse because with the pandemic, it will be next to impossible to land a new one.
Even if I’d made these mistakes, others have made the exact same errors, so why am I getting written up? I’m being singled out — isn’t that against the law?
What can I do?
Once you land in a bully’s sights, you’re often on your own.
Some HR officers keep what employees targeted by bullying say confidential. Others pull the bully manager aside and arrange for his coaching or discipline. Still others give targeted employees coaching. And some HR officers do what yours did, and tell your manager your concerns, potentially thinking the manager will hear them and improve. Unfortunately, if your manager is a true bully, he’ll retaliate.
The laws that safeguard you against being singled out relate to a number of specific categories. The federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and its state and local counterparts protect employees being discriminated against because of their age, sex, race, national origin, or other protected categories. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Commission and its state counterparts enforce workplace health and safety laws and protected those targeted because they protested safety violations. The federal Department of Labor and its state counterparts enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. The federal National Labor Relations Board and its state counterparts enforce laws protecting an employee’s rights to collectively bargaining laws or act in concert with their fellow employees. In some cases, employee policies or collective bargaining agreements cover bullying, possibly creating contractual protection. Finally, if you work in a state in which Courts enforce the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, you can allege unfair treatment and sue.
Lawsuits take time and money, which is why many individuals targeted by bullies simply leave organizations. I wrote Beating the Workplace Bully to provide employees targeted by bullying with strategies they can use even if they don’t get the help they long for from HR officers, regulatory bodies or the legal system.
First, don’t let a bully create an outpost in your mind. The fact that your boss rules by insults and threats speaks volumes about him, but little about you. When you work under a bully, you can carry his statements home with you in your brain and ruin your evening. Mentally detox as you leave work. Realize the bully has verbally projectile vomited on you and the problem isn’t yours until you return to work the next day.
Second, document exactly what’s happening, so if your boss makes up unfair allegations, he’ll lose if he fires you and you sue for wrongful discharge. You may want to look up the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and also search out pro bono attorneys in your state.
Third, never let your boss know he’s getting to you. Like sharks, bullies go after blood.
Finally, bullying can sap your emotional and mental energy until you have little left and feel flattened. The fact that you’re crying many nights suggest that you’re close to exhaustion. If your employer allows bullies to romp over employees, your best option may be to vote with your feet.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions.”Curry is President of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.