Dealing with Employer Traps
Unfortunately, instead of providing a remedy to correct race-based misconduct (by firing or demoting the offender) some employers will escalate attacks against the victim of the harassment. If you’re being subjected to harassing behavior and a hostile work environment at work, beware of the traps that are often laid by supervisors and/or employers.
When a supervisor or a company decides to go into protection mode, they will sometimes try to create a rock-solid case against the complaining employee. The stronger the case against the employee—even a fraudulent case—the more secure the supervisor or employer will feel about deflecting any allegations that an employee or group of employees has engaged in illegal misconduct.
It’s a bait and switch. The employee goes from complaining about mistreatment to being lured into a position of defending themselves against baseless attacks, which often have nothing to do with the instigating incident. For instance, a Black employee may complain about a White manager using racial epithets and end up in a meeting defending allegations that they (the Black employee) has been habitually tardy to work—an accusation that was never made before they complained. Having been subjected to supervisor and employer traps, I can provide some tips:
1. Keep track of all the false allegations being made against you and guard against the attack by keeping all documentation that proves the allegations are false. For instance, to justify a malicious performance evaluation rating given to me (the lowest offered at our company) my former employer accused me of being unavailable to work on specific projects and they named those projects. They said that the task leaders never knew when I could work or what I was doing.
Unfortunately, for my employer, I had emails from the tasks leaders of those projects stating that our work was put on hold by government contracting officers or that the projects were canceled. The emails even stated that no one on the team should bill any hours to those projects because they were inactive. Therefore, how could I be unavailable for work that was nonexistent? An outside investigating agency now has the claim from my employer that I was not pulling my weight on these projects. But, this agency also has my written evidence that there was no work to be done because work had been suspended or permanently stopped.
Luckily, I saved those emails because those types of emails are important to keep and because my employer was already hinting that they were going to attack my time and work effort on a number of projects. My supervisor was suddenly fond of saying that EVERYONE was “watching my hours” and every “wonders what you do.” She telegraphed the company’s blows (attempted knock-out punches) and I was keeping all documentation related to where I knew the punches would come from.
2. Keep track of false allegations and show how your supervisor or employer is engaging in behavior that would lead you toward engaging in the negative behavior. For instance, a supervisor or employer will sometimes bog a targeted employee down with a lot of extra work. This is done to make it hard for the person to meet deadlines, to encourage mistakes, and to stress out the employee. If you find yourself in this type of trap, you should document all of your assignments prior to the point where you were a target and show how your assignments significantly increased after you became a victim of abuse. You could show how the workload wasn’t spread throughout your department—just to you.
Another example of this would be a supervisor or employer falsely criticizing an employee for not asking important questions, but leaving out the part about how they wouldn’t respond to the employee’s emails or voicemails and refused to have face-to-face meeting to discuss the assignment. In this example, the employee could show documentation of attempts at getting answers to questions that were rebuffed.
The point is...you want to show that your employer is not documenting performance problems; your employer is creating and manufacturing performance problems.
3. For a moment, pretend any false allegations are true. So, look at the personnel manual and see how your employer should be handling their false complaints and management of you on the issues. You want to play the devil’s advocate to see if you can trap your employer with their own written policies and procedures. This is a tactic that can help your case. For instance, your employer may lay a trap for you with the end goal of demoting you. But, your employer may move more quickly than is justified by their own policy. The policy might say that you should only receive an oral warning for a first violation—real or not. You can use this to back your employer into a corner by asking why they are jumping the gun and violating their own policy. And, you could question why they are alleging your behavior is so egregious it warrants ignoring their own written policy.
All of the answers to these questions will go towards building your case against your employer. It can also force your employer to back off or commit to more lies—if that is the direction they wish to take things. But, if they do, they are already in a bad position, if they’ve ignored their own policies and procedures. If so, they are showing evidence of harassing or retaliatory behavior (if you’ve already made complaints).
4. Make the employer prove the allegations/traps. If they want to lie about you, make them fully own the lies. Instead of falling into the trap, ask for historical documentation of your alleged performance deficiencies and bog your employer down with questions that they can only answer by removing their complaint about you or by lying and getting themselves into more legal hot water. For instance, if your employer lays traps about false performance deficiencies, you can ask:
a. When did you first notice this problem?
b. Why didn’t anyone bring the alleged problem to my attention before now?
c. Can I see your evidence of this problem?
(e.g., if you’re accused of making critical errors that you’ve never heard about, ask to see the work and have the errors pointed out to you.)
d. Why am I being written up, instead of offered guidance, mentoring or training?
e. Other questions related to specifics of your individual circumstances.
I know it’s easy to get frustrated by fraudulent performance allegations and traps. But, try to see through the frustration and look at these things as your employer helping you to prove a case against them. If they want to break the law and continue to harass you, create a hostile work environment for you and/or by retaliating against you for complaining, document everything and ask lots of questions. Get the answers in writing. An internal and/or external investigation or a lawyer will do the rest—depending on how you choose to pursue the issue.