I've written about heightened scrutiny and observation in previous posts. For anyone new to the blog or anyone who hasn't read them, heightened scrutiny and observation are actions that some employers take after they have decided to target an employee. We all know that if you examine anything or anyone hard enough, you can always find something to criticize. If there is nothing to criticize, you can warp positive attributes into something negative.
Here are a couple of race-related examples of heightened scrutiny and observation, since race and the workplace are the focus of this blog:
1) A Black employee is due for a promotion and a supervisor or the company, as a whole, does not want this employee to be promoted for race-related reasons. The supervisor may decide to subject the Black employee to heightened observation and scruntiny as a premeditated way to come up with so-called "legitimate" reasons to deny the promotion to the worker. These reasons, pretexts, will NOT be associated with race because that would violate federal statutes.
After observing the Black employee, the employee is denied a promotion because they have been analyzed as being rude, defensive, unable to take criticism, angry or engaging in other behaviors associated with racial stereotypes. Recent examples will be used about interactions with managers and coworkers. Additionally, the Black worker might be told that they do not behave in a "managerial" fashion and may be provided with recent examples of behavior that undermined their ability to be promoted, such as observations about their friendships/relationships with coworkers signifying they might have issues managing staff. Or, a proactive employee may suddenly be accused of circumventing the authority of their supervisor, even though the employee's actions were previously appreciated and welcomed.
2) AFTER an employee has complained of discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation--even if they have not used those specific words (not legally required)--subjecting that employee to heightened observation and scrutiny in order to harass and retaliate against them by causing a hostile work environment and using any little thing as ammunition against the employee.
So, an employer might have coworkers or others watching the targeted employee and they may compile a list of pretexts that would justify denying a promotion or transfer or that would justify suspension, demotion, etc. For instance, a complaining employee might suddenly be accused of personality defaults (the rude and angry thing), might be falsely accused of stealing company time, might be accused of goofing around/goofing off, etc.
It's a horrible feeling to know that you are being watched and to know that it's not just management, but coworkers, that are involved in spying on you, including going through your office looking for things to use against you. It's an extremely hostile environment because you can't protect against everything when ANYTHING can be manipulated and turned against you. But, here are some tips, when you know you are a target and are being watched:
--Don't leave anything around your office that you wouldn't want your harassers to see and use against you. Take important documents home. If you plan on exposing workplace abuses, don't leave proof of those abuses/evidence in the office, where it can be taken/destroyed. If you are drafting letters to lawyers, EEOC, etc. DEFINITELY don't leave anything in your office. Try to work on that stuff at home and don't bring it to work with you. And, if you have drawn unflattering doodles of your harasser, don't leave those hanging around;
--Don't come to work late or leave early. You can be accused of stealing company time and/or you can be accused of timesheet fraud, etc. Remember, you are being watched. The easiest target is time in and out of the office vs. the time clock or timesheet records;
--Don't come back late from breaks or lunch. Same reason as above;
--If you are going to travel for work or are going on personal vacation, send an email to everyone you are working with--in advance--informing them of the dates you will be unavailable and where they can find important documents and electronic files. Let your clients know that you will be out of the office. Let everyone know who they should contact in your absence with that person's contact information listed. If you are traveling for work, be sure to provide all of your contact information on how you can be reached. If you are taking personal travel, make sure to give your cell phone number to one person that can contact you in an emergency. Yes, we don't want to be called on vacation, but none of us should want to be set up while we are out of the office. If something goes wrong and only you have the answer that can fix it, and you can't be contacted, you WILL go down for it. Be smart. Leave emergency contact information with someone and let others know that you can be reached in an emergency. If you will be legitimately unreachable (hiking in the mountains with no cell phone reception), make that known IN ADVANCE. Put in writing that the adults at your job will be on their own, while you are away. I WILL BE UNREACHABLE FOR 3 DAYS...;
--Keep copies of all your timesheets, etc. Any false allegations about your time in and out of the office might involve your employer falsying time records, which I've seen happen (a false accusation of a complaining Black manager being AWOL, when she had approved leave). Make sure you can prove the hours you worked and the leave you took;
--Keep your office neat. Don't allow petty criticsm that you are unorganized, which can be twisted into that you don't pay attention to details and can't easily find important documents and information, if needed;
--Don't bad mouth anyone in the office with anyone in the office. If you have something negative to say, say it to people who don't work with you. Don't trust staff to keep your secrets. Additionally, staff may complain that you are putting them in the middle of workplace conflict and that you are causing them to feel uncomfortable, which you can be written up for! Just do your job;
--Keep documentation of everything, since you know you are being watched. Save emails, memos, etc. from those targeting you as a means of proving instructions, conversations, etc. at a later time;
--Don't miss deadlines and inform staff if you feel you need assistance to meet a deadline--or if it is impossible to make a deadline. It IS your responsiblity to let people know if you can't do your portion of work by an agreed upon date/time. If you know at the moment it is assigned that you can't make the deadline, say so and put it in an email to the person in charge. Ask for assistance as a solution you can offer or ask for some of your work to be repriortized/shifted to allow you to accommodate a new priority project;
--Don't have watercooler conversations, which can also lead to claims of stealing company time/being nonproductive. Keep chit chat to a bare minimum and keep it moving. You are being watched, so don't allow yourself to be turned into a Chatty Kathy (or Kevin); and
--Try to maintain a positive attitude with coworkers, clients, and even the person harassing you. If you can't be positive, don't be anything less than professional. If there isn't much to use against you, your supervisor or employer may go after personality-related issues. They will look for opportunities to say that you are negative, that your coworkers don't enjoy working with you, that you are difficult to work with and manage, that you aren't a team player, etc.
Remember, you always want to put your employer in a position where they HAVE TO LIE about you because you haven't given them anything legitimate to hang their hat on. If you know you are being watched, you have to be on point at all times.
Sure, your employer may maniuplate petty things into major problems, but those things can be more easily exposed as pretexts and fraudulent claims than a legitimate or major issue can be shaken off.
Keep your head up and try to do your job to the best of your ability, despite the heightened observation and scrutiny!