Office bullying – it exists in many ways – physically, verbally, nonverbally – in the workplace. This is an example of one situation from a reader who wrote me a few days before being a guest on WHAM 1180 – listen the full show here. The letter has been slightly edited to protect her identify.

Reader: I would like you to share my story on your radio program tomorrow–I’ll be at work and won’t be able to phone in, but I did ask my husband to tape the show for me.

My story is simply this, I am currently working in a menial job because I quit a good job because I was bullied at work and my boss, a former psychologist (imagine that) did absolutely nothing about it.  I worked for a local college as a librarian with some administrative duties as well.  I was the only non-white person working there.  One of my bosses was in “City A” and the other in “City B”.  I got along fine with my boss in “City A” at the beginning of my job, but then a coworker turned her against me and the co-worker harassed the hell out of me and wasn’t nice to some of our minority students as well, but they were afraid to report her because she was the person who processed their grades.

At one point the bully and I traded some nasty emails and that landed me in a meeting with my two bosses the H.R. director (no bully, because they were afraid she would blow up).  I listened to these people talk about me like I was the guilty party.  I am a Christian, and the Holy Spirit advised me in a pre-meeting prayer to not defend myself–and I didn’t.  What I did do was go back to the office and email the president of the college with a blow by blow description of the meeting (who said what) and let him know that I was filing a claim with the equal employment opportunity commission — the harassment died down quite a bit after that, although no conversations were had between me and the president or any of the parties involved.  Oddly enough, the EEOC person who was processing my claim made so many mistakes that I decided not to bother, because it kept being sent back to me.

The final straw was that while I was on vacation, I checked my email and found out that a staff meeting was held and a decision was made about my duties without my say so, and I decided to quit.  It’s too bad that I did that, because un beknowst to me, my boss had given her notice and as a result, three months later, with a new boss in place that couldn’t be manipulated and with her punching bag (me) out of the way, the bully also quit.

I just wanted to share and ask you to share my story without using my name of course, and to let people know what their rights are and if they need to have a meeting like the one that I had, take a lawyer or a friend with them for support–and don’t let anyone know that they are coming.  Also, I suggest keeping a paper trail of all workplace events that are negative as well as a list of all of the value that you contribute to your workplace.  I did this on my last full time job and my bosses appreciated it.  Once a month, I submitted something called a 5:15 report.  The idea is that you stay after work till 5:15pm and submit a report of your accomplishments for the month, that way when it comes time for a review, your boss knows “what you done good.”

Reader in “City A”

There was not enough time on the radio show to convey the essence of this letter. There are a number of comments I have regarding what happened to you.

My boss should have known. This seems obvious, if someone has training or is in a position of management, they should know better. WRONG.

Often the people who should know better are good at telling others what to do but fail at doing it well themselves. It is more difficult to be self critical of our skills and our own baggage or blind spots get in the way.

In no way does this condone their behavior; it simply means that everyone is human and prone to mistakes, faults and poor judgment.

Bullies use power inappropriately. When someone has the power to make decisions that affect other people (in this example – grades) it is imperative that the organization knows that it is being done fairly. If not, there should be a vehicle to anonymously report concerns.

The bully will remain a bully as long as they have the power and the victim is in their circle of influence. If the power remains and the victim leaves, they generally move on to a new victim.

The email trail. Consider what communication methods you use when confronting someone about their behavior. There are some limitations using the written word – read here and here for some tips.

Manage the Confrontational Meeting. It might seem a good idea to bring an attorney in to a meeting, and if you do, understand that you have just elevated the meeting from “let’s discuss this situation and find a solution” to “a power play perceived as adversarial”.

It is difficult to have this kind of conversation and the need for moral support may be warranted. If there is a union, a representative can be present during the conversation. In the case of a no representation, consider carefully who you bring into the meeting and what subliminal message you are sending to the participants.

The ideal situation is to find an advocate in the Human Resources department who can navigate and assist in resolving the conflict. Taking this step has to be done early because if a situation elevates to a meeting such as you had, HR will aligned with the management’s position.

Do you tell an organization you are filing an EEOC claim? When you tip off the company that a claim is going to be filed, it will shut down communication. Fundamentally, it is management’s responsibility to mitigate risk. The message is, “I cannot resolve it with you, so I am seeking outside assistance.” It is not in the best interest of the organization to have any further communication or evidence become discoverable.

What does someone do in this situation?

It is important to create a log of activity that causes you concern in the workplace. Note if the situation is minor or a nuisance or if it is severe in nature or is repetitive.

Documentation is important whenever you have a discussion with your boss or Human Resources about problems. They will want to know the specifics of a situation because talking in generalities does not give them something to act on.

Recognize if things get out of control and find a way to stabilize it quickly. When things start to snowball, it becomes very difficult to redirect everyone to work on a positive outcome. Unfortunately, you may have became a victim to this forcing you to leave to get find a better work environment. Unfortunately, not all organizations place a high priority on creating a positive workplace culture or focus on the wrong things.

Your idea of the 5:15 report is an excellent way to communicate with your boss about your accomplishments and your value proposition.

Readers – any more thoughts or ideas?