July 7th, 2013
Let’s Talk with Kalola: Postal Worker
I have been a postal worker for 19 years. I am a female. The first 16 years were very uneventful. Numerous different managers and co-workers have come and gone in those 19 years. Five years ago a male military veteran was hired. He had been in the military for 13 years. I would guess his age to be about 45-50. We have three different crafts in our office. This military veteran spent 2.5 years as a “sub” to a regular carrier position and then through a series of unusual events was given a coveted regular position. These positions in our office usually take 8-12 years to get into.
I personally witnessed this man scream at the veteran female carrier on the workroom floor. He had been employed with us for less than a year. She retired soon after, making me the veteran carrier in our craft, and making him a regular.
He screamed at me after an incident in which he kept interrupting me in a craft meeting we were having with two supervisors. After the meeting, I went up to him and told him that I didn’t appreciate him interrupting and disagreeing with every comment I made in front of the bosses. He blew his stack and screamed at me “You’re harassing me! I’m telling management that you’re harassing me!” After I left his area he proceeded to come up behind me while I was talking to two other women, and scream again “I’m telling management that you’re harassing me!” We were both interviewed by management, as were the witnesses’ and I was told to avoid talking to him from that point on. That was management’s solution.
His campaign against me has included things as petty as closing doors after I open them to adjusting the office radio after he sees me touch it to comments loud enough for me to hear such as “when you’re the best of the best over there”. Or “I always obey all the rules.” I am the whistle-blower in my office and have recently become the local steward for my office. His relationship with our last interim supervisor including eating pizza with her at her desk and poker parties at her house. She has thankfully moved on to an office that she will run by herself with no employees.
I have been experiencing severe anxiety at work and I’m not much calmer outside of work. I have crying fits which I’m assuming are some kind of panic attacks. With all due modesty, I used to be one of the funniest and happiest people to be around. My friends loved to be around me. I don’t even recognize the person I am now.
The town I live in has a population of about 7,000. The job I have is literally in the top 3% of jobs you can get in this county. I have only a high school education and an elderly mother who lives here and who I am unwilling to leave. I do not consider relocation to another city an option for me.
Your website is what is currently keeping me sane. Thank you for it.
Dear Postal Worker
How did the worker obtain a coveted position with so little time and experience on the job? Since the Civil War, U.S. Armed Forces war vets have received some degree of point preference when they apply for federal jobs. The worker may have participated in “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (the war in Iraq). See U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Veteran’s Service Guide:http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/veterans-services/vet-guide/
The worker may have a hidden disability such as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) or suffered a traumatic head injury or other injury. Eligible veterans with a disability can receive up to 10-points preference in hiring. He may also have prior post office work experience that you may not be aware of.
Management may be giving the worker some leeway, looking the other way and/or tolerating some of his behaviors.
Early on, you witnessed the worker bullying the veteran female carrier which may have influenced her decision to take retirement. You are now the most senior worker in your classification, and the bully is now targeting you.
The bully appears to have anger management issues. No one enjoys going to work when they have to work with a bully or bullies. The workplace environment changes in a negative way for everyone who has to work with that person. No one should be yelling or screaming at workers unless it is to alert one to an immediate danger or an emergency or if the worker works in a noisy industrial setting. Following you around in the workplace with the intention to annoy, harass, intimidate or to threaten can be construed as abusive conduct. Document every incident. Keep your documentation at home in a safe location, and don’t discuss with anyone that you are documenting or keeping records. Indicate: Who was involved. When the incident took place and where (date, time and location). Indicate the circumstances and details of what happened. Note if there were witnesses, etc.
If you write a letter of complaint, do cite any policies, rules, regulations that may have been violated by the bully as well as what the bully did to you. Any threats to do physical harm to you should be reported to law enforcement as well as to the postmaster of your work facility. Ask your union for assistance.
When the bully alleged that you harassed him when, in truth, he had harassed you, you state: “We were both interviewed by management, as were the witnesses, and I was told to avoid talking to him from that point on. That was management’s solution.“
The potential for violence exists. The bully sounds like a powder keg ready to explode. If the bully continues to follow you around at work, disrupts your work, or gets angry at you when you have left him alone do report this immediately to management and/or the postmaster. Never engage an angry person who is directing their anger towards you as the situation will only escalate. Walk away. Do not get caught alone with the bully. If he gets in your face and catches you alone, walk to an area where there are other workers. If the bully continues to harass you, you will then have witnesses. When you leave work, walk out of the building with others. It is evident that this man is trying to make it appear that you are the problem. Don’t trust him, and watch your back.
Ask management for a copy of their workplace violence policy, and ask them what they are doing to prevent workplace violence where you work.
Please see your doctor, and share with your doctor what you are experiencing at work and how it is affecting your health. Ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional who can help you to cope with what you are experiencing at work.
Here is some information about workplace violence in Federal workplaces that you might find of interest which could also be shared with your supervisor and/or management, and your union:
From a blog article in the Washington Post, Federal Eye by Eric Yoder, February 11, 2013: New Policies Ordered on Federal Workplace Violence. Federal agencies have been told by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to produce within four months more comprehensive policies for addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the workplace.In September 2012, a report by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board: Employee Perceptions of Federal Workplace Violence was sent to the President of the United States and to Congress. The report based on a 2010 study, found that 13 percent of federal workers had observed an incident of workplace violence over the preceding two years. Workplace violence was defined as physical assault, threat of assault, harassment, intimidation or bullying.
Here are excerpts from a cover letter to the 80-page report from Chairman Susan Tsui Grundmann, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board:
“The results of our survey of Federal employees indicate that when an incident of physical assault, threat of assault, harassment, intimidation, or bullying occurs in a Federal workplace, it is most likely caused by current or former Federal employees rather than customers, criminals, or those who have a personal relationship with an employee. One-quarter of the violent incidents that Federal employees observed over a two-year period resulted in either physical injury or damage to or loss of property.“
“Effective agency anti-violence programs may help reduce the number of incidents that occur and may mitigate the damage caused when an incident does occur. We recommend that agencies ensure their workplace violence protection programs address violence caused by all perpetrators, specifically Federal employees.” “In addition, Federal managers should foster organizational cultures that do not tolerate violent behaviors and that take reports of such behaviors seriously.“
Excerpts from the conclusions section of the 80-page report:
“Workplace violence can happen in any organization at any time—it occurs in large businesses and “mom and pop” operations; it happens in large cities and in small towns. Perpetrators of workplace violence can range from strangers to troubled employees to model employees. One purpose of this report is to assist in dispelling the dangerous perception that it can’t happen here. If organizational leaders believe that violence cannot occur in their workplace, or that the stronger threat comes from external sources, they are placing their employees at risk.“
“The culture of an organization may actually encourage confrontational, aggressive, or violent behaviors. Some organizational cultures may inhibit open communication, which may have the effect of stifling employee reports of aggressive or violent behavior. Others may give employees reason to believe that nothing will be done to address their concerns if they are raised.“
“Poorly planned human resources programs, as well as supervisors who are poorly prepared to administer such programs, can contribute additional workplace stress that may increase the likelihood of workplace violence.“
Thank you for submitting your workplace story and sharing your thoughts and experiences. I am concerned about your health as well as your personal safety on the job. Please look at all your options. If you are further threatened by the bully, consider filing a formal complaint.
Take good care of yourself.
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