Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't Give The Ammo to Shoot You With!

If you're being targeted in your workplace (and even if you aren't), you should take extra care not to give your enemies ammunition to use against you. If someone is targeting you for race-related reasons, they will often attempt to find a pretext to use--a non-race related reason that appears to be a legitimate concern--that will justify why they are subjecting you to scrutiny, criticism and/or employment actions.

You have to remember not to give anyone ammunition to use against you that can serve as the pretext to coverup their real motivation--racial discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation.

Everything you do will be reviewed with a fine tooth comb. Your every move will be analyzed to see how it can be twisted to fit a negative narrative that can be created for you by your supervisor or employer, as a whole.

Targeting an employee amounts to engaging in psychological warfare. It's about wearing a person down until they stop complaining or until the employee can be set up for employment actions, such as demotion, suspension and, ultimately, termination.

So, an supervisor/employer may try to turn coworkers against a targeted employee in order to isolate them, may pick apart their assignments looking for errors, may only provide partial instructions for assignments in order to cause errors, may give large volumes of work to be turned around in a short time in order to cause an employee to miss deadlines, may physically or verbally threaten a targeted employee, may encroach on the employee's personal space, may bully the employee, may spread lies about the employee around the workplace, may deny the employee a transfer in order to continue a hostile work environment among those willing to target the employee, etc.

All of this creates stress and/or health issues (headaches, nausea, high blood pressure, insomnia, etc.) for a targeted employee. And, under that stress is an increased likelihood that the employee will begin to make mistakes that can be used against him/her. The stress causes distractions and feelings of being demoralized. It's hard for a person to concentrate on work, when they have so many tumultuous things going on at their job. The end result is that many employees will give up their complaint and just shut up to save their job and health, they'll resign or there will be enough "issues" documented for an employer to terminate the employee.

That's why there is today's reminder on not giving anyone ammunition, while you are literally fighting for your employment survivial. You have to hard as that may be. You have to do everything possible to rob your supervisor, employer, etc. of opportunities to have new examples of negative performance on your part.

Here are some places employers will look for ammunition to use against a targeted employee:

--The use of sick and personal leave (claims of excessive use or unauthorized use);

--Typos in documents or emails sent to heavy-weights at your company or to a client (claims of careless errors and/or incompetence);

--Errors in documents, in a database, in emails, etc. (claims of careless errors or incompetence);

--Claims of negative relationships with coworkers (opportunities to call a targeted employee "negative" or "not a team player" or "angry");

--Failure to follow instructions (claims of incompetence);

-- Etc. You get the picture.

Here's what you can do:

--Go to the doctor to create a medical record of your health as you battle workplace racism and get doctors notes to submit to your employer, when you are out;

--Try not to take vacation, when there is a major assignment going on or that will be happening at that time. This can help prevent you from being labeled as having abandoned major work and causing staffing problems;

--Proof all of your documents, emails, etc. Look for typos and grammatical errors. Don't send email in all uppercase or lowercase. If you're upset by an email you received and want to send a response, don't write back with emotion. It's okay to draft an email with your heart, but you have to edit with your head. Strip out emotional content and just write a professional email that sticks to the facts;

--Carefully review instructions. If you think some steps are missing, ask the person about adding in some steps based on your experience performing the work. Talk over the instructions with the person to get them to commit the instructions to words and not just paper. If there's a problem later, you can recount the conversation along with the written instructions. That puts more responsibility on those that may want to set you up for failure.

--Keep people in the loop on your projects. If a problem comes up due to bad instructions or some other issues, send an immediate email--even if you can't stand the person you are working with/reporting to. Don't sit on it and give ammunition out. Identify the problem and a potential solution. But, do it in writing, so they can't lie and say you never spoke up.



Monday, November 23, 2009


If your area is like where I'm at in New York, you know all kinds of germs are going around right now. I'm in round 2 with some flu-like illness. There will be no post today. Since it is Thanksgiving week, I will not have any new posts until after the holiday.

I wish everyone a blessed and safe Thanksgiving!

There will be a new post next Monday!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tangible Employment Actions and Your Salary and Benefits: Part II

If you feel you are the wrongful victim of a tangible employment action, PREPARE TO FIGHT BACK! Here are some tips, as promised yesterday.

Tip #1: Maintain a record of any memos or emails you receive that are meant to justify the tangible employment action (e.g., corrective action notice, written warnings, etc.);

Tip #2: Be able to produce your salary history, by maintaining a record of your income with your employer. Show any decrease in pay. Maintain a record of any memos or emails that are meant to justify a salary decrease.

Tip #3: Check the personnel manual! Before such extremes actions were taken against you, check to see if your employer is following its own policies and procedures. If not, point out any violations that may exist.

Tip #4: Find out about past history! Have other employees engaged in the same behavior that you were accused of engaging in or of having the same performance deficiencies that you were accused of having? If so, what happened to those people? Does it differ from actions taken against you? If so, and the consequences for other employees was nonexistent or very minor, you may be able to claim disparate and unequal treatment by your employer.

Tip #5: Keep pushing your side of the story! Don’t let HR or your employer ignore your version of the facts. Document everything, including every relevant conversation you’ve had with HR staff and authorities at your job. List any contradictions in what they say about policies and justifications for the actions. Provide witness statements to support you (e.g., character references or eye witness accounts of events, etc.) and request that HR check with these individuals to confirm your story.

Tip #6: File a grievance or request an internal investigation! Don’t let tangible employment actions slide. If you believe a manager is acting on racist whims by stripping you of your staff or cutting your pay, ask for HR to investigate the matter! It’s your career, fight for it! If the company doesn’t find in your favor, appeal the decision!

Tip #7: Seek legal counsel! Don’t be afraid to consult an attorney in response to a fraudulent tangible employment action.

Tip #8: Remember that your company will usually do everything in its powers to make it appear that the tangible employment action was warranted. This will be their justification for why no violations of Federal law occurred. It is your job to show that the arguments presented by your employer are nothing but pretexts used to hide their true motivations, which might be harassment, discrimination or retaliation. By keeping a log of events that transpired, keeping hard copies of memos, emails, and other documentation that supports your case, and by tracking comments made and actions taken by your supervisor, Human Resources, and corporate management, you can begin to demonstrate that their defense is dishonest and solely meant to cover up the violation of your employee rights. Focus on why their defense is untruthful! That is the burden placed on complainants!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tangible Employment Actions and Your Salary and Benefits: Part I

Workplace harassment is defined by law as behavior that, while offensive, is extremely serious because it changes the conditions of your employment or creates a hostile work environment. In regard to the law, for something to change the conditions of your employment, the “something” must be a tangible employment action. A tangible employment action is any significant change in your employment status. It’s an action that has a negative impact on your work environment, job function or career.

A tangible employment action isn't lip service. A tangible employment would be:

--a demotion;
--a suspension;
--being stripped of your staff;
--being denied a promotion with no basis;
--receiving a pay cut under false pretenses;
--being transferred to a menial job;
--being transferred to a remote location or being transferred to a hard to reach location (making it difficult to get to and from work) or being isolated from other staff; or
--being subjected to a hostile work environment that is so offensive and persistent that you can’t perform your job.

Some employers try to get all Slick Willie with these actions. So, sometimes they won’t take away an employee’s salary or benefits. Then, they’ll argue that there isn’t a really significant change in job status/no significant penalty. But, that argument doesn’t fly because tangible employment actions aren’t considered based on whether or not an employee retains the same salary or benefits. So, if there is a significant and negative change to your job—even with the retention of pay and benefits—you can argue that you were hit with a tangible employment action.

In my case, I was denied a promotion without basis—except racism and retaliation. I kept my salary and benefits. I filed a complaint with the Office of Human Rights (OHR). My employer responded to OHR that they didn’t change my salary, title, etc. and used that to try to prove that everything was legitimate that happened to me. They didn’t know that I knew they were full of sh*t and that I could argue such based on the fact that I knew that tangible employment actions are not linked to retaining salary, benefits, etc.!

Anyway, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, tangible employment actions:

--occur when a supervisor uses the official powers of the company to take action(s) against an employee;
--are official acts of the company;
--are often documented in company records;
--often have the official approval of the company and its internal processes;
--often cause financial harm; and
--generally, can only be caused by a supervisor or other agent of your company, since a coworker just doesn’t have the power to bring about a significant, negative change in another employee’s employment status or job responsibilities.

That's the background. Tomorrow, I'll share tips for fighting back against tangible employment actions.

Friday, November 13, 2009

You Don't Have to Say It

There are certain topics I like to hammer home on this blog. Today I'd like to remind everyone that you don't have to come right out and say something like, “I believe I am the victim of employment discrimination” or "It appears that the company has a policy of not promoting Black workers into mid-level management."

The fact of the matter is, you can speak generally about your mistreatment and/or any unequal treatment and still be considered to have protested or opposed discrimination at work.

Anti-retaliation provisions make it unlawful to discriminate against an individual because s/he has opposed any practice made unlawful under the employment discrimination statutes.

This protection applies if an individual explicitly or implicitly communicates to his or her employer or other covered entity a belief that its activity constitutes a form of employment discrimination that is covered by any of the statutes enforced by the EEOC.

Because individuals often may not know the specific requirements of the anti-discrimination laws enforced by the EEOC, they may make broad or ambiguous complaints of unfair treatment.

Such a protest is protected opposition if the complaint would reasonably have been interpreted as opposition to employment discrimination.

The point is, your employer can't use the excuse that you never complained of "discrimination" (or even "harassment" or "retaliation") simply because you never used those specific words. Your employer, HR staff, and members of management have knowledge of federal statutes and should know potential violations of law, when they hear them!

Don't let your employer off the hook because you may have failed to use a red flag word! Your employer must work harder to try to work its way out of race-based problems in the workplace.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Quick Tips: Offer Suggestions

African Americans are often fighting the perception that we don’t care about our work, projects, etc. We’re sometimes perceived to be going through the motions and just waiting to cash a check, instead of really being invested in our assignments and caring about the outcomes.

To help fight this false perception, you should get more involved in projects--especially if you hope to advance within the company.

Even if you are normally ignored, make sure you speak up in meetings. But, no matter what anyone says, don’t just speak for the sake of speaking. I once had a White manager tell me I should ask questions that I knew the answers to, that I should paraphrase or agree with something that someone already said or that I should make a suggestion, even if it wasn’t great or if I didn’t believe in what I was suggesting. The rationale was that this behavior supposedly showed I was listening and participating in the meeting.


I didn’t buy that argument then and I don’t buy that argument now. I think it’s clear when people are just talking to be talking and I think it makes you look ridiculous. So, here are my suggestions:

Tip #1: If you don’t have anything of value to contribute, shut up.

Tip #2: If you have a question, ask for answers.

Tip #3: If you make suggestions, keep a list of the ideas you’ve shared. That way, if you are later accused of not providing your input, you can respond with specific examples of ideas you’ve shared with the group.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reader Shares Her Story...

Pre-Halloween, I asked all of you what stands out in your mind, when it comes to the racist ghouls and goblins you work with. One reader, had a similar story to me, as far as having people question her about clothing, jewelry, etc.

Anonymous said:

I have [been] dealing with this for the past five years with a particular hispanic female co-worker. Anytime, I come to work with any new clothing including shoes, she wants to know if the material is authentic(e.g.touching and feeling), where I buy it and how much did it cost. I can tell it annoys her that I have nice things. It got really bad when she found out that I was about to purchase my first home(I'm the only one who owns her own home, besides our manager). I mean, she doesn't behave this way with the other woman(who are non-black), when they acquire something nice. The focus seems to be primarily on me and what I have.

I'm the only black woman in my department and I'm young. I just feel like I'm under constant scrutiny by her and the other females I work with.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Dog Having Surgery: No Post Today

My dog is having surgery today. As you can probably guess, I am a nervous wreck. I will not have a post today. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Keep Copies of Your Timesheets

If you are filing a grievance against your employer (and just as a general rule of thumb) you should always maintain copies of your timesheets. Even if you record your hours on an electronic timesheet, you should print your timesheets and place them in a file folder for safe keeping. If you have filed a grievance, you definitely want to keep a copy of your timesheets for the period of time covered in your complaint.

I’ve worked for an employer that falsified and manufactured timesheets to try to disprove a case against them that was being investigated by a state government agency. The reason this employer was unsuccessful in getting away with their submission of falsified documents was because the employee maintained a copy of all of her timesheets for that period and could show that new timesheets had suddenly “appeared” in her file (with completely different hours recorded). It would have been beyond her capacity to doctor an exact copy of the corporate timesheets, but much easier for her employers to do so. Keep this example in mind, when it comes to your own timesheets.

Keeping your timesheets will prove the amount of leave you used, if any, as a result of stress-related ailments due to harassment, discrimination or other illegal activities committed by your employer. You can use these timesheets to request a restoration of your sick leave used while you were being harassed and tormented at work. Timesheets will also show your general sick and vacation leave used, in case there is some later dispute about your attendance at work.

Keep in mind, when employers are being investigated or questioned, they want to show negative past behavior on your part. Leave is one area for employer’s to attack and is often one of the first targets they will hit. If you are being targeted at work, the torment is designed to cause you to lose your focus, make errors, force you to resign, and to cause any other side effects that will play into your employer's hands. Your employer wants to drive you to drinking and to the verge of a nervous breakdown, but will question your sick leave during these attacks. Your employer will also attack legitimate reasons for being out of the office.

In my case, on the first day of an attack by my supervisor, my supervisor falsely stated that everyone questioned my hours in and out of the office and everyone wondered where I was. She told me, “We want you to come to work.” And, she said it as if I had been out of the office on a routine basis. The only absences I had from the office were pre-approved and involved work-related travel (out of state) and client meetings that took place off site. Yet, my supervisor was declaring that no one knew where I was, what I was working on, and wondered when I got anything done—because I was supposedly chronically out the office.

I have a copy of all my timesheets to prove that this statement was an obvious and intentional lie. But, it didn’t change the fact that my employer gave it the good old fashioned college try in order to justify their unjustified attacks against me. That’s why I am passing this warning on to you. Don’t let your employer have the only copy of your timesheets. It could come back to haunt you.

Finally, you may want to maintain a copy of your previous year’s timesheets as added insurance against manipulation by your employer. If your employer feels the need to create long-term problems with your employment, they may go well into the past to show so-called performance/attendance issues on your part.

Remember, even your legitimate use of sick leave and vacation leave may come under attack from your employer. When requesting advance leave, make sure your time off is approved, forms are signed by the proper authority, coworkers are notified of your schedule, your assignments are covered during your time out of the office, and that you have a copy of your signed and approved leave form in your personal file.

Final thought: If you’re under attack at work, always get a note from your doctor, if you’re out sick.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

You Can Take It With You: Part II

As promised, yesterday, today's post is part two of the information you should take when you leave a job, especially if you were the target of race-based abuses (discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation).


--A copy of your resignation letter

--An official copy of your job description

--A copy of your performance reviews

--A copy of congratulatory email/”thank you” email

--Writing samples – Writing can be an equalizer that makes you competitive with those who have degrees or more advanced degrees than you possess. Many people write poorly, including the college educated population. You are extremely valuable to an employer, if you write well. Always keep samples of your work. This includes keeping samples of any technical writing or proposal writing, as well as any writing for specific audiences (e.g., teens, AIDS patients, etc.)

--Design/product samples - For instance, if you oversaw or coordinated the work of a creative team or vendors

--Product shots -Stock photos of any finished products that you helped create

--General samples of your work, specific to your field (e.g., research analysis reports)

--Letters of recommendation – Make sure to get positive written feedback from your superiors and coworkers before leaving any job

--Phone numbers for oral references – Line up your references as you pursue other work opportunities. Find out what phone number your references would like to be called on (Some may want to receive a phone employment verification call on their cell phone and not their work phone)

Always think about what information is specific to your job/field and compile information that can be included in a portfolio of your work.

Monday, November 02, 2009

You Can Take It With You: Part I

If you've become a target at work due to race-based grievances, you leave your job under a couple of scenarios.

1) You may decide that's it's time to move on and resign. You may want to leave for health reasons (stress, high blood pressure, etc.), for your sanity or for your future livelihood. It's always best to leave on your own terms--while retaining the option of pursuing actions that may help you vindicate your rights at a later time. Even if you leave your job, you can still seek the assistance of a lawyer and you still have the option of filing a formal complaint with an investigatory agency, such as the EEOC or Office of Human Rights for your county.

2) You may leave your job under even worse circumstances. You may be a target who is fired or laid off by your employer under false pretenses. Your employer may create "evidence" that shows they are justified in severing your employment with the company or they may pretend they don't have any work for you to do and make you a victim of the dreaded lay-off/reduction in force.

Regardless of why you are leaving your employment, you will need to take lots of information with you as evidence that will be helpful in case you decide to take action against your employer. It's important to have an idea of what information is important to have. Remember, once you leave the company, it will be nearly impossible to get a hold of anything you left behind. Your closest workplace friends will likely not want to make a copy of this that or the other--even if they love you to death. Most folks aren't going to risk their own employment for anyone else and they will fear retaliation if anyone knows they are helping you.

I've created two lists. The first I will share today and the second list will be posted tomorrow.

The first list is an accounting of some of the things you should take with you, if you have an outstanding complaint/grievance against your employer. Even if you have not officially filed an external complaint and do not know if you will pursue legal action, this is information you should take with you.

The second list includes some of the items that employees should ensure they have, even if they are leaving their job under the best/positive circumstances.


--A copy of your company’s personnel manual or, at the very least, the applicable sections that are germane to your case

--A copy of your company’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies

--A copy of any written warnings you’ve received, including performance deficiency memos or emails that are meant to document patterns of negative behavior or work performance

--A copy of your job description to show your official responsibilities (you can use the description to show how you may have been bogged down with many unofficial tasks that would ensure you failed to fulfill the requirements of your job)

--A copy of your timesheets

--A copy of the position for which you were seeking promotion or may/could have been promoted to fill

--A copy of performance reviews

--Memos and email that prove your case/claims

--A list of incidents that support your allegations of harassment, etc. (including dates/times)

--Organization charts that show the hierarchy at your company/of your department

--A list of superiors that you reported harassment, etc. to (including dates/times)

--A copy of congratulatory email/”thank you” email demonstrating that you did a good job performing your work

--Photos of any graffiti or racial slurs that were used to attack you

--Tape recordings of nasty/offensive voice mail messages

--Witness statements by those who witnessed harassment, etc. or, at the very least, a witness list of those who saw or heard things that happened to you

--Performance review guidelines that should have dictated how your review was composed and the appropriate evaluation standards for your position

--A copy of any email/memos you’ve sent to superiors or Human Resources complaining about mistreatment (include any responses received)

Check back tomorrow for list #2.
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