picked on/disrespected by a boss

What can I do to protect myself from harassment. I mean the type that no one talks about: the bullying/being picked on by a boss/him being rude/nasty.
When your union reps tell you its between you & him and they won't help you/tell you it's not "legal harassment but it's harassment"!
When human resources says they'll treat "confidentially" THEN DON'T--thus making the problem far worse.
You "have" to go outside for help!!

1 answer  |  asked Nov 15, 2001 9:59 PM [EST]  |  applies to New York

Answers (1)

David M. Lira
Protecting Yourself from Harassment

Unfortunately, to an extent, your union representative has something when he makes a distinction between "legal" and "illegal" harassment. The fact of the matter is that, in New York State, because of the employment at will doctrine, an employer has no obligation to be reasonable, considerate or kind. An employer may be bullying, nasty and rude.

Harassing behavior becomes illegal only if it is aimed a people because of a protected classification. Protected classifications include race, religion, national origin, gender, age and handicap. Thus, the boss's behavior would be illegal if it is aimed at you because you are black or white, male or female, Hispanic or Irish, etc.

Whether the behavior is illegal harassment will depend on the facts. I would look at things such as comments. For example, does the boss often use words which are insulting to members of certain racial, religious or ethnic groups. Does he talk about sex? Does he make sexist remarks?

But I would also look at conduct. For example, are certain people or groups excluded from meetings, social gatherings or training.

One of the things that bothers me about your situation is that you are apparently a union member. Even if we assume the harassment that you are experiencing is not illegal, I would think that the abusive treatment is a grievable issue under your union contract. Historically, employees unionize for better treatment. If you are being abused, I would think the union would be able to do something. I would suggest that you insist that your union rep do something. If he refuses to do anything, go over his head in the union.

If the abuse you are experiencing is illegal harassment, then your employer has an obligation to act. But you also have an obligation to complain, which you apparently have done.

Confidentiality raises some thorny issues. There doesn't seem to be an outright obligation to keep harassment complaints confidential. If there is any obligation of confidentiality, it arises because your employer has an obligation to prevent things from continuing or getting worse. However, it often becomes impossible for the employer to keep a complaint confidential while at the same time fulfilling an obligation to fix the problem. So, overall, that HR failed to keep your complaint confidential won't necessarily help you, but it all depends on what precisely happened.

If your employer has failed to act on a complaint of illegal harassment, you can then make a complaint to one of three places in your case: the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the New York State Human Rights Division, or the New York City Human Rights Commission. You can also start a lawsuit.

However, before going to any agency or court I suggest that you speak with an attorney. You have various rights in cases of illegal harassment. If you don't do exactly the right thing, you can easily lose some of those rights.

A last option you can exercise to protect yourself is leaving. But by leaving you might lose certain rights, so, again, before leaving, I would suggest that you speak with an attorney.

posted by David M. Lira  |  Nov 16, 2001 09:36 AM [EST]

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