Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Keep a Record of Verbal Threats and Physical Abuse

When a person is targeted at work, it is often a traumatic and stressful situation. The impact of being targeted isn’t simply felt because a person is sensitive or hypersensitive, but because a big part of being a target at work involves being on the receiving end of all manner of threats and abuses.

In the initial phases of being a target, many of us go through denial. We try to talk ourselves out of realizing the severity of our situation by downplaying what is going on. After all, denial is one of the easiest ways to ensure self-preservation. If there’s no problem, there’s no issue, right?

But, there’s usually a point of no return for many targets. This is the point where a target realizes that they may have their career permanently derailed, they may lose their reputation, they may lose their workplace friends and allies, and they might even lose their job. The point of no return signals either the fight or flight response in many people.

Fighting involves speaking up about the mistreatment (to a supervisor, HR, etc.), documenting the issues/incidents of abuse, filing for an internal/external investigation, etc.

Flight involves anything from remaining silent about potentially illegal abuse (that has stopped), continuing to be abused and suffering in silence, denying the reality of abuse by pretending nothing is wrong, allowing yourself to continually be denied a promotion without basis, leaving the job and not pursuing vindication for any abuses, etc.

Regardless of the response to abuse, one thing is certain. You must document all incidents and threats—from the beginning. You must document everything even if you don’t think you will ever file a complaint. You can’t possibly know what you may or may not do in the future because circumstances could dramatically change your viewpoint. In order to keep all of your options open, you must make sure that you will have everything you would need in the future, should you file an internal or external complaint with HR, EEOC or a lawyer.

It’s important that you document all types of abuse, such as incidents that serve to threaten your job security and to intimidate you, incidents of physical or verbal violence, etc. All of these would fall under the overall heading of harassment, which creates a hostile and offensive work environment. They could also be evidence of retaliation based on the fact that you complained of abuse, if that is the case.

Keep a list of incidences. It could look something like this:

Threats to my Job Security/Intimidation

11) On 2/1/08 at 4:20 pm, the director of HR stopped me in the hallway and said, “You’d better be careful. We are starting to get the feeling that you are playing the race-card because you intend to file a civil suit. We’re not just going to sit around and watch you set us up with your race-baiting. We will not tolerate that!” My coworker, Debbie, was standing nearby and heard what she said.

2) On 2/4/08 at 11:30 am, my supervisor told me, “You’d better watch your back. Some of us don’t think you like having your job. It doesn’t look like you want to work here anymore. We can make that happen.”

3) On 2/10/08 at 3:15 pm, the director of my department told me that the department was restructuring and that all staff would have to keep a log of our work for an entire month in order to justify our positions. But, when I asked around, I found out that no one else in my department or in my group was asked to keep a log. I have been singled out to justify my employment.

Physical and Verbal Abuse

1) On 2/2/08 at 9:41 am, my supervisor called me a “Black b*tch!” because I declined to analyze research data in a manner which violates research protocol and is unethical.

2) On 2/5/08 at 11:00 am, my supervisor bumped into me in the hallway. I didn’t think anything of it, but it has now happened 4 times today. She will go out of her way to bang into me and the contact is becoming harder each time she does it.

You get the picture. It’s critical that you keep a log of everything, no matter how small you think the incident is—at the time. You may need the dates and nature of these incidents at a later time. Don’t play yourself by not having what you need, when you need it.

Document everything. Log incidents by category, if that helps. Keep a list of witnesses. Record the time of the incident, as well.


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