August 20th, 2014
Let’s Talk with Kalola: Worker is Exploring Taking Legal Action Against Her Employer
I was bullied by my boss, and when I reported his insidious acts to Human Resources, he retaliated and placed me on a performance improvement plan and escalated his bullying towards me. When I complained to Human resources about the irregularity of the plan, and the fact that the bullying acts had only accelerated, I was advised to comply or lose my job.
My performance improvement plan was to last for three months, during which time my boss isolated me, excluded me from team meetings, stripped me of critical roles and took every opportunity he could get to humiliate me and call me names. At some point it was so depressing to go to work. Going to work was just to face more and more humiliation and isolation, and I developed body pains especially lower back and shoulder. The pains would never subside even when I was on the strongest of pain killers.
One day I felt I could not bear the thought of going to work. I called in sick and even sought medical attention. X-rays were carried out but the doctors could not find anything wrong and only prescribed pain killers. I decided to take time to clear my mind and assess whether I should quit my job. Surprisingly when I returned to work, my boss demanded that I produce my medical records for the day I was sick. Even though I knew that this was a violation of my privacy I handed him copies. Absurdly he accused me of falsifying the medical records and had disciplinary charges preferred against me. During the hearing he stated that he had gained access to my call records which to him proved that there was no way I could have been sick or sought medical help because according to him I was “roaming the town” based on my call records. Inwardly I was reeling from the fact that he had illegally obtained my call records, invaded my privacy, and had the audacity to discredit my defence and explanation. He demanded that the panel find me guilty. I got a warning letter and from that day he demanded that I no longer attend any divisional meeting. exactly one month later he asked Human resources to have me dismissed for failing to pass the improvement plan. I was dismissed and advised that I could exercise my right to appeal. I appealed against the dismissal. The appeal was never heard, and my dismissal was confirmed a month later.
On the whole the battle against a work place bully is an ugly one. They are usually in privileged positions of power which they abuse. A law suit against the company is the only option I have now. I am actively pursuing that right now.
The decision to take legal action against the employer is not an easy decision. You will need to be strong and take good care of your health and well being during this time. Take one day at a time. Watch movies that will make you laugh. Go for walks. Learn to meditate. You will need to have a good emotional support system. Financially, the cost to litigate can be be enormous with no guarantees that you will win your case. Let us know what the outcome is to your legal matter, and if you have any advice to a worker who plans to pursue legal action against their employer. I hope that your legal matter can be resolved to your satisfaction. In a best case scenario, I hope your matter can be settled out of court.
Seeing an Attorney. It may be in the best interests of a bullied worker to talk to an employment and labor attorney about their work situation. I say this because all too often workers will say much later that they wish they had at least talked to an attorney. Attorney fees vary. Be prepared to pay the attorney when you meet. There are two types of employment and labor attorneys: one that the employer uses, and the other that works with plaintiffs or workers. Be prepared to briefly state your situation. You may want to provide the attorney with a list of the most egregious acts the employer has taken against you. Write down the questions that you want to ask the attorney so that you don’t forget to ask. Bring a good friend with you who can take notes during your visit with the attorney. The attorney may ask for your evidence or documentation that you have collected. If you have correspondence from the employer, HR, or the employer’s attorney, do bring that with you when you see the attorney. The attorney will determine whether he/she is interested in taking on your legal matter.
Workplace Fairness is a non-profit organization that provides free online information about worker rights. An article on their website worth reading is: “Will A Lawyer Take My Case?”
Employment References. Jeff Shane of Allison and Taylor, Inc. was interviewed by Fox News (April 2012) about Employment References: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7USgLRa_WQ. Allison and Taylor, Inc. is a reference checking service that charges a fee ($$) to check employer references. If a worker finds that his or her former employer is giving a bad work reference that prevents the worker from finding a job, and that the information given to prospective employers is false and/or malicious in nature, the worker may want to contact an employment and labor attorney. With proof that a former employer is giving false and malicious information to a prospective employer, an attorney can write a cease and desist letter to the former employer.
Denial of Unemployment Benefits. If an unemployed worker who has filed for unemployment benefits has been denied those benefits based on statements made by their employer, the worker has the right to appeal the decision. If the worker feels they need assistance with the appeal, the worker can contact an employment and labor attorney for help. Note, there are many workers who are able to successfully appeal a denial of unemployment benefits on their own without assistance from an attorney.
If a worker feels that the employer has illegally discriminated against them, the worker can file a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state EEO office or similar agency in the country where you live. In the U.S., the deadline to file a charge is strict, read the “Time Limits to File a Charge.” If the worker feels that they need help in filling out the Charge of Discrimination form, an employment and labor attorney can help. The EEOC enforces Federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. To learn more about the different types of discrimination that the EEOC enforces, go to their website: http://eeoc.gov/. Note: At this time, there are no federal laws that prohibit workplace bullying. Also note that federal workers have a different complaint process than other workers.
This is what the EEOC says about the cases that they litigate: ”(The) EEOC files employment discrimination lawsuits in select cases. When deciding whether to file a lawsuit, (the) EEOC will consider several factors, including the seriousness of the violation, the type of legal issues in the case, and the wider impact the lawsuit could have on EEOC efforts to combat workplace discrimination. Because of limited resources, (the) EEOC cannot file a lawsuit in every case where discrimination has been found.”
Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring. Every worker should read the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Fact Sheet #7, “Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring.” Today’s technology makes it easy for an employer to monitor an employee’s work activities.
When a worker’s health and well being is affected by what the worker has experienced in the workplace, it is recommended that the worker see their doctor for a thorough health exam. Tell the doctor what your health symptoms are, and what is happening to you at work. Ask for a referral to a licensed mental health professional who can help the worker to cope with what the worker is experiencing at work or long after the job if the worker is still feeling the effects of what happened to them in the workplace.
To learn more about the effects of stress, read the National Institute of Mental Health’s Fact Sheet on Stress. An excerpt from the fact sheet: “Problems occur if the stress response goes on too long, such as when the source of stress is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided.” The Fact Sheet also lists excellent tips on how to cope with stress.
Anita—It takes courage to tell one’s workplace bullying story. You are not alone in what you have experienced. By telling your story, you have helped other workers. There are bullied workers who have not yet been able to tell their story to another person. Telling one’s story can be cathartic and a way of releasing pent-up feelings or emotions that the body has held on to.
If you are reading Anita’s story, ask yourself this question: What can I do about bullying in the workplace? Stand up against workplace bullying or psychological abuse in the workplace. If you meet someone who is being bullied at work, tell that worker about the anti-bullying Workplace Bullying Institute’s website. Form a group that meets outside of the workplace where workers can freely and confidentially talk about what happened to them in the workplace. If your state does not have an anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Advocates’ group consider forming a group in your state. Tell your story to a legislator and tell the legislator that there ought to be a law. If your state has an anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Advocates’ group consider becoming a volunteer. Be supportive to workers who are now experiencing psychological abuse in the workplace. A smile, a kind word can make all the difference to a worker who is experiencing workplace bullying. One can still be supportive to another worker without putting oneself in jeopardy of also becoming a target. Be inclusive rather than exclusive, and ask a co-worker who has been bullied if they want to join you for lunch or to take a walk at break time. As Dr. Ruth Namie says, “Work shouldn’t hurt.”
To find out more information about the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill and how you can volunteer to help, go to the website: http://healthyworkplacebill.org/.
”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” … Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., American Leader, 1929-1968.
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