Question:

It’s an open secret our manager of business development is hard to work for. He goes through an assistant every six months, always hiring the same type—young, pretty, naïve, and eager to please.

I work in a mid-level position in another department and have no organization power or influence but can’t stand what I see. I occasionally speak to my manager about this situation, but he tells me, “It’s not your business, and it’s not mine.”

I think he fears of the BD manager, who’s hard-charging manager who brings our company the new contracts we need to grow and has been allowed to get away with murder.

I feel sorry for the young woman who the BD manager currently supervises. She clearly doesn’t like it when he refers to her as his “office wife.” She’s told me privately that he scares her, that she doesn’t like it when she travels with him to our subsidiary offices in other states or to meet with funding sources.

She’s hinted he’s physically rough with her. When I asked her what she meant, she began to cry and wouldn’t say more. She’s afraid she’ll lose her job if she herself says anything. I don’t know what to do with this information.

Answer:

The words “physically rough” translate to criminal assault. There’s also something disturbing when a manager hires “naïve, eager to please” employees who leave after six months. What you’ve said potentially indicates a hostile work environment based on gender or continuing pattern of sexual harassment. You need to inform your company’s human resources manager or go above your manager to your CEO.

Here’s what you can tell anyone who thinks “it’s not their business.” Employers have responsibility for their employees’ workplace environment and a duty to address hostile work environment issues.

Employers that fail to act to stop an employee’s abuse of supervisory authority can be held liable for what their supervisors do, even off the job. In a landmark case, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana) ruled that an employer may be liable for intentional acts committed by supervisors against employees, even if done outside of work, if it can be shown the employer turned a blind eye to a problem.

This tragic case, Anicich v. Home Depot USA, Inc., involved the sexual assault and murder of an employee who was seven months pregnant. Home Depot employed Brian Cooper as a regional manager, despite knowing Cooper cussed at, physically intimidated, and sexually harassed female employees by rubbing against them and pressuring them into spending time alone with him.

Alisha Bromfield began working seasonally for Home Depot as a teenager. Cooper called her his “girlfriend.” Although Bromfield complained to Home Depot’s management, they allowed Cooper to keep his supervisor position, didn’t ensure Cooper completed mandated anger management training, and didn’t step in to protect Bromfield from him.

According to the court testimony, Cooper demanded that Bromfield attend an out-of-town wedding with him, threatening to reduce her work hours or even fire her if she refused. After the wedding, Cooper murdered Bromfield and raped her corpse.

In ruling that Home Depot could be vicariously liable to Cooper’s actions, the court held that employers have a duty to act reasonably in hiring, supervising, and retaining supervisors and employees.,

Here’s what your employer needs to do — investigate. They can do so by interviewing the current employee, and if this proves to be a “he said/she said” situation, they can conduct after-the-fact exit interviews with former employees who worked as the business development manager’s assistants. There are apparently a lot of them. As part of their investigation, they need to reassure your co-worker that the law protects employees against retaliation when they raise the type of concerns she has.

(c) 2022 Lynne Curry

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One thought on “I Smell Danger and So Should Your Boss

  1. It’s good to know there are legal remedies for this kind of workplace harassment. It’s depressing to know that too often to use them, the person assaulted or otherwise harmed has to sue. Let’s hope the workplace investigation (a) happens and (b) finds something and uses its legal countermeasures. Too often HR is just a patsy.

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