Thursday, August 29, 2013

Workplace Violence

Why does it happen and what can we do about it?



This is a long post, folks, but an important topic, so stick with me.

Yet another incident of workplace violence Three dead in Florida shooting spree occurred last Saturday; just the most recent of what seems to be a very frequent occurrence around our country in recent years. Some of these tragedies are only tangentially related to the actual workplace in or near which they occur (the result of domestic violence for instance), while others are perpetrated by current or former employees.

First, let’s take a look at some numbers. These are presented by the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health:

In 2011, 21 percent of female fatal work injuries were homicides. In 40 percent of these workplace homicides, the perpetrators were relatives—almost all being a spouse or a domestic partner. Only 9 percent of male fatal work injuries were homicides. In male workplace homicides, 2 percent of the perpetrators were relatives.

In 2011, 22 percent of female workplace homicides were committed during the commission of a robbery. Robbers were the most common assailants in workplace homicides of male workers.

Among workplace homicides that occurred between 2005 and 2009, about 28 percent involved victims in sales and related occupations, and about 17 percent involved victims in protective service occupations.

In 2011, 456 persons holding management positions were fatally injured in the workplace. Of this total, 108 fatalities resulted from violence and other injuries by persons or animals.

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides an annual count of fatal work injuries in the United States, including homicides.

From 2006 to 2010, an average of 551 workers per year were killed as a result of work-related homicides. In 2010 (the last year for which final CFOI data are available), CFOI reported a total of 518 workplace homicides, or 11 percent of all fatal work injuries that occurred that year.

A total of 77 of those were multiple-fatality homicide incidents in which two or more workers were killed, including 69 homicides and 8 assailant suicides, all of whom were in work status at the time of the incident.

Shootings accounted for 78 percent of all workplace homicides in 2010 (405 fatal injuries). More than four-fifths (83 percent) of these workplace homicides from shootings occurred in the private sector, while only 17 percent of such shootings occurred in government.

Workplace homicides attributed to shootings involving workers in elementary and secondary schools are relatively uncommon, although 12 were reported between 2006 and 2010. Of the 405 workplace shooting victims in 2010, 110 (or 27 percent) occurred in the retail trade industry.

Workplace shooting events account for only a small portion of nonfatal workplace injuries. In 2010, there were 500 nonfatal shootings with days away from work, which was a small fraction of the 1.2 million total nonfatal cases with days away from work reported in that year.

About 4 out of every 5 workplace homicide victims in 2010 were men. The type of assailants in these cases differed, depending on whether the victim was a man or a woman. Robbers and other assailants accounted for 72 percent of homicides to men, for example, and 37 percent of homicides to women. A substantial difference exists when relatives and other personal acquaintances are the assailants: only 3 percent of homicides to men, but 39 percent to women. Assailants with no known personal relationship to their victims accounted for about two-thirds of workplace homicides.

While mass shootings make headlines (think Sandyhook or Aurora), the majority of workplace violence episodes do not make the news, or don’t make the national news. Each day, employees and managers deal with incidents of assault, domestic violence, harassment, stalking, and threats, as well as physical and emotional abuse that never make the news. Many of these, in fact, are never even reported to company management or to the police. While estimates of the cost of such violence are not exact, estimates run into the billions of dollars.

Why do these things happen? The reasons and arguments surrounding this question are as varied as the incidents themselves. Is it a result of our culture? Lack of adequate mental health care? The seeming small value that so many place on human life? I certainly don’t have a good answer. But, we need to recognize the reasons why workplace violence may occur. Experts say potential causes of workplace violence can include:

Work-related conflict
Personal conflict
Domestic violence
Revenge
Displaced anger
Stalker obsessions
Disgruntled clients/customers

While these may be the triggering event, can we really say any of them actually cause someone to act out violently in the manner that we’ve seen in recent years? It is also important to understand that a person may be experiencing one or more of these events and never act violently. However, when telegraphing behaviors are observed in employees, it is important for us to address and correct issues before a violent situation develops.

Below is a list of behaviors and attitudes that may be indicators of disruptive, threatening, or violent behavior.

Behavior:
Upset over recent event(s) [work or personal crisis]
Recent major change in behavior, demeanor, appearance
Recently has withdrawn from normal activities, family, friends, co-workers
Intimidating, verbally abusive, harasses or mistreats others
Challenges/resists authority
Blames others for problems in life or work; suspicious, holds grudges
Use/abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
Unwelcome obsessive romantic attention
Stalking
Makes threatening references to other incidents of violence
Makes threats to harm self, others, or property
Weapons - has or is fascinated with weapons
Has known history of violence
Has communicated specific proposed act(s) of disruption or violence

Attitude:

Is isolated or a loner
Morally superior, self-righteous
Feels entitled to special rights and that rules don't apply to him/her
Feels wronged, humiliated, degraded; wants revenge
Believes to have no choices or options for action except violence

Combating workplace violence is complex and requires management commitment, investment and understanding of what it takes to provide resources to protect their workforce against threats posed by disgruntled employees, domestic violence spillover into the workplace, and customer/client- or patient-related violence.

The Crisis Prevention Institute lists some tips for preventing workplace violence:

1. Assess Your Work Environment
Critically examine all areas of your work environment, including parking lots, entryways, reception areas, work areas, and offices. Is the lighting adequate? Are there convenient escape routes? Do you have a method to summon assistance?

2. Pay Attention to the Warning Signs
Many people who become violent communicate their intentions in advance. Threats from customers, coworkers, or third parties should be taken seriously and reported immediately.

3. Promote Respect
Foster a day-to-day attitude of respect and consideration in your work environment. Don’t tolerate rude, harassing or disrespectful behavior.

5. Know Your Violence Response Procedures
Violence response procedures are simple plans designed to minimize injury during a violent incident. These procedures should include a plan to summon assistance and move people to a safe area.

6. Trust Your Instincts
Don’t ignore your internal warning system. If you sense impending danger, react accordingly.

According to Dennis A. Davis, a former SWAT team liaison who directs client training for the employment law firm Ogletree Deakins, there are other steps businesses can take to prevent violent incidents:

1. Screen applicants

"Your best chance to avoid workplace violence is to avoid letting in a violent person in the first place," Davis says. Ask all applicants for personal as well as professional references. Ask everyone who comes in contact with the applicant about their impressions. Then trust your gut. Does this person seem stable? I would add that performing appropriate background checks is important.

2. Craft a tough anti-violence policy
You need a policy that stands on its own—not part of some other general policy on professional behavior or misuse of office equipment. That sends the signal that you’re serious about preventing workplace violence.

3. Establish a crisis management team

A crisis management team consists of six to eight people who function as coaches before violence erupts and incident managers if it does. Include staffers from the HR, legal and security functions. There should be a representative from senior management and your employee assistance program if you have one.

4. Train front-line supervisors and greeters

"These people are your eyes and ears, your early warning system," says Davis. They’ll probably know if someone is about to become violent long before anyone else does.

5. Publicize your anti-violence program

Use meetings, newsletters, e-mail and the intranet to get the word out that your organization has a zero-tolerance policy on workplace violence. Be sure everyone knows how to contact the crisis management team and when to call 911.

When violence occurs at work, employees often express that their violent co-worker "just snapped." However, people usually don’t "just" snap. They display some type of warning sign long before they actually lash out. It’s vital to talk to employees before they reach the violent stage to offer assistance and/or let them know their behaviors are unacceptable.

Be on the lookout for workers who display any of these eight warning signs of violent behavior, according to Davis:

1. Fascination with weapons.

That’s different than ownership of weapons. (Think Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.)

2. Substance abuse.

Research shows a big correlation between substance abuse and violence.  

3. Severe stress.

Stress is a function of modern society but people with a propensity toward violence allow that stress to become an excuse for violence.

4. Violent history.

"Once people cross that moral, ethical or professional barrier into violence," Davis says, "it’s a lot easier for them to do it the next time."

5. Decreased or inconsistent productivity.

Employees with a tendency toward violence have a harder time keeping a consistent level of productivity.

6. Social isolation and poor peer relationships.

Loners are more likely to act violently because they don’t have asocial network to work out problems.  

7. Poor personal hygiene.

These people have moved into the dangerous "I don’t care" phase.

8. Drastic changes in personality.

It’s a myth that you need to watch out for ultra-shy or ultra-outgoing employees. Davis says, "You need to pay attention to the person who flip-flops between the two."

Debrief for Prevention
Another way to reduce and prevent workplace violence is to implement a plan for reviewing any incidents of workplace violence after they occur. What you discover in a review can serve as a guide for changes that can assist you in preventing future occurrences. Doing or responding the same way time after time and expecting results is not so productive. We can just think that we can move on and hope it doesn't happen again.

Not that long ago, I took part in a discussion with a police captain from our local jurisdiction. She shared a sobering, but realistic fact. Regardless of how well prepared we think we are (and we should be prepared), that if faced with a violent person, an active shooter, the end result will likely be that not everyone escapes unscathed. Actually, her words were much more direct than that, but you get the idea. All we can do is our best. Prevent as much as possible, and protect as much a possible if it happens.

In light of that advice, I’ve included some resources (from which I gathered some of the information for this post) below.


Resources:
OSHA Workplace Violence

Victims of Crime.org Library

CDC/NIOSH Violence

The following two links are for a training video and the companion booklet to guide workers and employers if faced with an active shooter. Warning: While a "reenactment" of sorts, this video is quite realistic (as it’s meant to be) and may be a bit frightening to some if used in training your workforce. I’ve seen several variations on this same video.

Run Hide Fight

Active Shooter - How to Respond




Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to Handle Employee Conflict

One of the hardest parts of management is supervising employees. Even adults can often act like children when they don't get their way or when someone upsets them. Unfortunately, having them stand in the corner for a "time-out" is not a really good option, regardless of how much we might want to give it a try. However, there are things you can to resolve the situation.

Dealing with conflict at an early stage to nip it in the bud and stop the situation developing into a full-blown dispute will save time, money and stress later on, for both management and employees.

Some of the issues that can cause conflict between individuals and groups at work include:

Different values- Since we all hold a set of beliefs or principles we hold as true, when we discuss an issue with someone who has incompatible views, there is high potential for friction and conflict. 

Need for power and control- Conflict often pushes its way into the workplace when one or more people try to make others change their minds, or do other things contrary to their beliefs or choice. Some people feel that they must always come out on top in order to prove their superiority, while others have a difficult time filling the role of follower. 

Employees bullying their way through work- Unfortunately, the bullies we grew up with are now in the workplace and still vying for control.  In a reversal of the typical childhood bullying scenario, adult victims in the workplace tend to be capable and intelligent people.  The bully sees them as a threat, and strives to get them out of the picture. 

Whether you blame it on personality, lifestyle or other factors, there are times when a couple of employees just don’t mesh well together. This type of friction in the ranks can make your office feel like a war zone.

The tension can make the workplace uncomfortable for other employees and have a dramatic effect on productivity. As a manager, you can’t afford to take the see-no-evil-hear-no-evil approach.
 

So, what can you do?

Acknowledge the conflict- This seems obvious at first, but more often than not, the manager or supervisor may sense the tension in the office, but with so many fires to put out, they usually hope that the dispute simply dies out on its own.  Inaction is likely one of the worst choices.

Focus on behaviors, not personalities- This is a crucial tool that helps everyone understand that they as people are not coming under attack and that the problem at hand is based on one or more particular behaviors.  By understanding this employees can walk out of meetings feeling engaged and empowered instead of attacked and defeated.

Strike an open-door policy balance- Encourage accountability, personal responsibility and growth, but let employees know that an open door does not mean "open dumping ground."  You can also remind them that you are available to coach them on how to work through specific situations.
    
Here are some steps to take to help you put out the fire between feuding employees.

Encourage employees to work it out - Remember you’re their manager, not their mother. Use your judgment when it comes to addressing employee complaints. You can’t mediate every single dispute. By reacting to every whine you may actually make the situation worse by feeding into the drama.

Nip it in the bud quickly - Unfortunately, some situations won’t work themselves out and you’ll be forced to step in. Like a bad sore, if ignored too long, employee disputes can fester and infect the entire workplace. Workplace disputes that aren’t addressed eventually end up sucking other employees into the drama. This "employee sideshow" can further derail productivity and morale.

Listen to both (all) sides - By the time you get involved, your office may already be buzzing with gossip. Don’t assume you know the entire situation based on what the grapevine says. Sit the feuding employees down and ask each to explain their side of the story.

Some recommend this be done individually, while others believe you should discuss the problem with both at the same time. It might depend on the degree of hostility between them. And this may not be possible at all if the situation calls for an actual investigation. But, you’ll want to create an environment where you can discuss facts, not emotions. Be as objective as possible.

Identify the real issue - Often the cause of an argument between employees can get clouded by the all the emotions and extraneous issues that surround it. Try to get each employee to articulate the real issue in a calm way. Ask them what they would like to see as an outcome (understanding that what they would like may not be possible).

Consult your company policies - Deciphering right from wrong should include reviewing your company’s policies, which are designed to lay down consistent rules that each employee is expected to follow at all times. In order to offer a fair resolution, you’ll need to make sure your decision is aligned with company policy. No employee should be above the policies set forth in the workplace. Letting an employee slide when they’ve clearly violated these policies will weaken your authority and cause resentment in the ranks.

Find a solution - You need to get employees focused on the job at hand. Employees don’t have to be best friends; they don’t even have to be friends at all; they just need to get the job done and do so in a professional and civil manner. Remember you have a department/business to run. If the conflicts continue, you may need to reevaluate your staff. One antagonistic employee can wreak havoc on the rest.

Write it up - Employees may not like it, but it’s important that you document all such workplace incidents. This will help you monitor behavior over time and keep an eye out for repeat offenders that are poisoning your workplace. Always write down details from each run-in an employee has had. Take note of the steps you took to try and resolve the issue.

Walk the Talk - Much of your company culture is based on how everyone interacts with one another. A culture of respectful communication is a "top down" proposition. Business owners, directors, managers and other supervisors set the tone for interaction in the workplace. By speaking to your employees in an honest and respectful manner, you create an environment that values integrity and communication. When you are open and honest, employees are more likely to do the same.

It’s been said that conflict is inevitable and resentment is optional.  Protecting your business begins with creating a culture that understands this and values conflict management.  In addition to practicing and advocating conflict management, be sure to clearly communicate that management or HR must always be notified of and involved in certain types of conflicts.  Particularly those in which there are indications of physical violence, harassment, discrimination, theft, illegal substance use, etc.

Conflict is not always the evil it is made out to be.  A good fire cannot be made without some friction; it is up to you and your leadership team to funnel this friction into productive and creative work.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

EEOC and Guidance on Criminal Background Checks

State Attorneys General ask agency to rescind


Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released "guidance" related to business’ use of criminal background checks in employment decisions. The guidance is based on data demonstrating disproportionate arrest and conviction records among Hispanic and black individuals. It does not prohibit employers from using criminal background reports when making hiring decisions. But it does expand what the EEOC would consider discriminatory use of such reports. Although the guidance is not legally binding, the EEOC can and will audit companies it believes are non-compliant. Only time will tell if the courts consider the guidance when ruling on Title VII cases.

While the EEOC concedes that a conviction record (as opposed to an arrest record) would suffice as evidence that a person engaged in criminal conduct, it maintains that there may be reasons an employer should not rely on a conviction record alone when making employment decisions. The guidance cautions that if employers automatically exclude all applicants with criminal records, black and Hispanic individuals will likely be disproportionately impacted. I have to wonder what the agency’s response would be to an employer who can show it applied the same criteria to any applicant?

The guidance states businesses may have to conduct an "individualized assessment" of those individuals identified as having a criminal record. It lists no less than eight specific factors for an employer to consider when making the individualized assessment:

  • The facts and circumstances surrounding the offense or conduct.
  • The number of offenses for which the individual was convicted.
  • Age at the time of conviction or release from prison.
  • Evidence that the individual performed the same type of work, post-conviction, with the same or a different employer, with no known incidents of criminal conduct.
  • The length and consistency of employment history before and after the offense or conduct.
  • Rehabilitation efforts (e.g., education/training).
  • Employment or character references and any other information regarding fitness for the particular position.
  • Whether the individual is bonded under a federal, state or local bonding program.

According to a recent SHRM article, the attorneys general for nine states (West Virginia, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina and Utah) sent a letter to the EEOC urging it to withdraw two lawsuits it filed enforcing its stance against broad, blanket criminal-background checks and to rescind the guidance. The EEOC brought suit against Dollar General and BMW, alleging that the employers’ use of "bright-line" criminal-background checks in the hiring process violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In part, the letter states:

"We believe that these lawsuits and your application of the law, as articulated through your enforcement guidance, are misguided and a quintessential example of gross federal overreach,"

Dollar General and BMW allegedly violated Title VII’s disparate-impact prohibition by using criminal-background checks as bright-line screening tools. They focused on past convictions in certain categories of crime: murder, assault, reckless driving and possession of drug paraphernalia. Anyone who failed the background check was refused employment without an individualized assessment. Sorry, not every business can justify hiring a convicted murderer or rapist. Their letter continued:

"An employer may have any number of business-driven reasons for not wanting to hire individuals who have been convicted of rape, assault, child abuse, weapons violations or murder—all crimes specifically mentioned in the complaints," they continued. "It might have concerns about the safety of other employees and customers or a desire to minimize the risk of liability. A criminal background may also be indicative of a lack of dependability, reliability or trustworthiness."

The attorneys general questioned the legitimacy of the case on which the EEOC’s guidance is partly based; a 1975 appeals court decision (Green v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. that rejected a broad criminal-conviction screen. The attorneys general questioned whether this decision was correct and said that even if it was, it "does not support your agency’s sweeping condemnation of nearly all bright-line criminal conviction screens."

They further accused the agency of engaging in "the illegitimate expansion of Title VII protection to former criminals," noting that "this gross federal overreach is further exacerbated by your agency’s claimed preemption of state and local laws" that prohibit the hiring of those with criminal records. In fact, the guidance does say that an employer relying on state or local regulations concerning criminal backgrounds will not save the employer from a charge of discrimination.

Let me repeat that "…..agency’s claimed preemption of state and local laws" that prohibit the hiring of those with criminal records." So, the EEOC is putting employers in an untenable position of choosing whether to violate their state’s regulations (that may include licensing regulations) and being sued by the EEOC. Awesome; just awesome.

Certainly the practical aspect of this "guidance" is troublesome as well. As these attorneys general note, forcing employers to perform more individualized assessments will add significant time and costs to the selection and hiring process, and in many cases are not likely to hire such an individual anyway even after a more thorough vetting process. They also note that this process is likely to increase the number of discrimination suits by rejected applicants which in turn will increase costs through increased litigation.

As the SHRM article notes, employers simply cannot stop performing background checks altogether. While doing so will minimize the threat of an EEOC lawsuit, it will expose employers to near certain liability for negligent hiring.

Consider any number of cases where an employee with a past conviction for a violent crime then assaults and injures another employee or customer, or a maintenance employee with a burglary record who steals. In such instances, the employers faced negligent hiring or retention charges. Employers facing negligent hiring complaints have a losing track record, as plaintiffs prevail in the majority of cases. Simply put, employers can no more ignore employee criminal backgrounds than they can ignore the EEOC guidance. The only solution to this dilemma (and it’s not a good one) is to review hiring and retention practices and determine the most efficient process to minimize liabilities.

I certainly applaud the efforts of these attorneys general and sincerely hope their challenge of the EEOC’s "guidelines" will effect a change.

At this point the finality, and even legality, of the EEOC's new guidance is also questionable as many, including Congress, feel the EEOC has overstepped its bounds. Even though the EEOC does not create laws, they can and will go after businesses they feel are not adhering to the new guidelines. So, stay tuned. And, here we go again with another government entity unreasonably interfering with employers’ ability to manage their own business.

***As I was writing this post, I note that a significant legal challenge to the EEOC’s war against the use of criminal background checks has been won. In 2009, the EEOC filed against The Freeman Companies. Last Friday, a Maryland federal court dismissed the EEOC's action against Freeman. In its opinion, the court stated that the EEOC could not meet its burden of "supplying reliable expert testimony and statistical analysis that demonstrates disparate impact stemming from a specific employment practice." Additionally, the judge noted what "appear to be such a plethora of errors and analytical fallacies" in an EEOC expert's conclusions to render them "completely unreliable, and insufficient to support a finding of disparate impact." You can read more at The Employer Handbook Blog

As Eric Meyer notes in his blog, this could carry over to other actions, like the Dollar General and BMW suits I cite above. This is great news!
 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cliques at Work?

No kidding, really??!

I’ve heard so many of my HR colleagues complain about workplace cliques, and I’ve experienced them myself over the years. I’m not just talking about employees within departments bonding as a group, sitting together at lunch or company functions and as a result, developing their own identity. The kind of cliques that we complain about are the ones that act negatively toward those not in their clique and create an "us vs. them" atmosphere. I’ve never quite understood why this happens with adults in the workplace, but apparently it’s pretty commonplace.

A recent CareerBuilder survey found that 43% of workers say that their office or workplace is populated by cliques. Forty-three percent. I wouldn’t be surprised if that figure was higher.

The nationwide survey—conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder from May 14 to June 5, 20l3, among a representative sample of nearly 3,000 full-time, private sector U.S. workers—found that cliques can affect workplace culture in a variety of ways.

One in ten workers (11 percent) said they felt intimidated by office cliques, 20 percent of workers said they’ve done something they’re really not interested in or didn’t want to do just to fit in with co-workers. Forty-six percent in this subgroup simply went to happy hours to fit in.

I have to question the statement that only 11% said they didn’t feel intimidated by office cliques. Why else would someone do something he’s really not interested in doing? Intimidation has many levels. Maybe they didn’t feel threatened if they didn’t join in, but they felt they were losing out, or would be looked at differently if they didn’t.

Other activities included:

· "Watched a certain TV show or movie to discuss at work the next day" – 21 percent

· "Made fun of someone else or pretended not to like them" – 19 percent

· "Pretended to like certain food" – 17 percent

· "Took smoke breaks" – 9 percent

15% said they hide their political affiliation to fit in, and 10% don’t reveal personal hobbies.

The survey also asked participants to name the persona they identified with in high school. Those former "class clowns," "geeks," and "athletes" were the most likely to say they currently belong to an office clique in their job today. So, for them, I guess work life has become an extension of high school.

Interestingly enough, nearly half of those workers whose workplaces have cliques (46 percent) say their boss is a part of clique with some of his or her employees. I’ve expressed in earlier posts how dysfunctional it can be when supervisors and managers become too involved on a personal level with their staff. Engaging in cliquish activities can be especially damaging.

I’ve seen the damage such behavior can inflict. Cliques aren’t just about sitting with the cool kids at lunch. They sometimes become the source of bullying, harassing, discriminatory behavior. As management, we have to find ways to eliminate this type of influence. Role-playing training, diversity/harassment training, along with not tolerating rude, disruptive behavior are necessary activities if you find your workplace is looking more like high school than work.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Know When Your Boss Crosses the Line

I read an interesting article on Forbes.com the other day Six Lines Your Boss Should Never Cross. It outlined 6 "lines" that a boss should never cross in dealing with employees. I thought I’d expand a little on those six, and add a few.

There is a line between professionalism and unacceptable behavior. If your boss has done one or more of these things with regularity, then it’s time to speak up. But employees need to understand what is acceptable and what is not, and on the flip side, what they should or shouldn’t do, as well.

1. Your boss makes references to your salary in front of other staff.  
It’s not appropriate for your manager or supervisor to reveal, or reference what you are paid in front of others. However, if YOU choose to discuss with your co-workers what you make, that’s fine. Just remember, if or when you find out someone is making more than you are, you can’t assume it’s not fair. You don’t know all the information that was considered when deciding a pay rate for any particular employee. We consider many things, and your circumstances are most likely not the same as someone else’s.

2. Your boss reprimands you in front of other employees.  This is never acceptable or appropriate. Reprimands, discipline, correction, whatever you want to call it, should be handled in private. However, telling you to get back to work, reminding you of a task that needs to be completed or giving you instruction on what to do, or how to do it, is not reprimanding. Of course, how something is said is often as important as what is said.

3. Your boss has unreasonable expectations.  As the article noted above states, "This one is tricky, as it may be difficult to determine whether the boss's expectations are unfair. The bottom line is that managers need to communicate their expectations for work performance clearly, they should assist employees when needed, and set reasonable deadlines for projects." I hesitate to include this one since it is so easy to interpret incorrectly. However, if asked to do something, you should never respond "that’s not my job". In many cases, your job is to do what’s asked of you. So even if you’re assigned a task that you don’t feel is your job, you should refrain from saying so. In fact, often expectations are not unreasonable, but are seen as setting the bar high with the hope it will motivate and challenge, and therefore develop, staff. In any case, refusing to do something your boss has asked of you is rarely a good idea (unless we’re talking about something illegal).

4. Your boss shares too many personal details. 
This goes both ways. Sometimes, a manager or supervisor will share details of a personal nature as a way to develop camaraderie or seem more approachable. However, this will erode her ability to supervise her staff, and often result in a lack of respect. Furthermore, employees shouldn’t be oversharing, either. This is a good time to remind people that supervisors and their staff really shouldn’t be Facebook friends. That kind of intimacy and sharing is a distraction and an impediment to a healthy work relationship.

5. Your boss gossips about others or breaks another employee’s confidence.   If your boss is breaking a confidence of another employee, or gossiping about another employee, this is unprofessional and unacceptable. No one, employee or boss, should be gossiping at work; this isn’t high school.

6. Your boss makes inappropriate references. 
Comments or questions about sex or of an intimate personal nature in any context are inappropriate. This includes jokes and emails, or comments about your physical appearance. Also, any type of implication that the boss is interested in a relationship of a personal (intimate) nature is completely inappropriate and off limits. Employees should not be pursuing such a relationship with a supervisor or manager either. These types of relationships never end well. It could also be a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.

7. Your boss is abusive.    Does your boss drag you into his/her office (or out in front of others) to scream at and berate you when you make a mistake or call you names? There is no room for abusive behavior in the workplace--everyone should be treated with respect. This also goes both ways. There is no excuse to speak rudely to your supervisor or manager. If you feel your boss is out of line, you can, and should, speak with someone else about it; whether that’s HR or your boss’s boss.

8. Your boss implies that sex, race, age or religion is a factor in work performance, promotion opportunities, etc.   None of these things have anything to do with your ability to do the job, and the suggestion that it might is probably discriminatory. You should address this immediately with HR, or another member of management with whom you’re comfortable.

9. Your boss violates company policy.   It’s rare that there would be a policy that you have to follow, but your boss doesn’t (it happens, but is relatively rare). If you see this regularly, speak up. There are reasons for policies, rules and regulations. By the same token, don’t bristle if you are spoken to about a policy violation. You may not like the policy, or think it’s important, but it didn’t get put into place because it was unimportant.


If you're experiencing one or more of these situations frequently, it’s time to speak up. It’s not easy, I know, but it's necessary for a healthy working environment. Calmly discuss the issues; don’t be defensive, and don’t respond in kind. If things don’t change, or you’re not comfortable approaching your boss about these issues, then consider going up the chain of command or to HR for help.