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How To Document a Hostile Work Environment

Man taking notes on what bad boss is doingVisitors to the Forum and the Academy know that regular posters like Littlelulu, msliberated, Curt and I are always harping on the importance of DOCUMENTATION. And folks have asked: “What does that mean?” This article is going to give you the nuts and bolts of documentation, so you can protect yourself from any rogue activity that your employer or supervisor may engage in. By “rogue activity”, I mean your employer manufacturing documents and supposed incidents that occurred.

It would help, I think, to start with the Dictionary definition. From my Webster’s Dictionary, “Documentation” means “the act or an instance of furnishing or authenticating with documents.” What’s a “Document”? As a Noun (a thing), a Document is “…an original or official paper relied on as the basis, proof, or support of something” or “a writing conveying information”. As a Verb (describing an action) “to Document” is “to construct or produce with a high proportion of details closely reproducing authentic situations or events.”

Put it all together and DOCUMENTATION means to gather originals of or create yourself an accurate record of the evidence and information that will support your case and make your employer take you seriously – and maybe even wet their pants. Now – by “create yourself”, I do NOT mean you EVER create evidence fictitiously. You are simply recording the facts as they occurred. You never lie. The truth will be enough to tie your employer up in knots, because THEY’LL be the ones to lie – believe me. And they’ll get caught.

So – how exactly DO you gather or create evidence? Simple: first, you gather every policy your employer has on ANYTHING. If they have an Employee Handbook, get a copy of it. If they have a website, download and print anything you can from the website. Date the print-outs, so that if anything is later changed, you’ll have proof of the dates of your print-outs. If they have bulletin boards with posters and policies on them, snap photos of them with your camera phone, then download the photos to your computer and print copies. Again: date the print-outs. If you’ve received e-mails from your supervisor, HR, or anyone else that are remotely relevant to policies, procedures, or your situation, print them out. It’s also helpful to forward a “bcc” to your home e-mail. Just make sure there’s no company-confidential information contained in the e-mail when you send it. If an e-mail does contain confidential information, it’s best to print it out instead, so you can black-out the confidential stuff.

When you have a verbal conversation with your supervisor or HR, you should follow up with an e-mail after the conversation to say, “I just want to ensure I fully understand your instructions and expectations as we discussed them this morning. As I understand it, you would like ………. If my understanding is incorrect, please let me know.” This way, even though your employer may not want to put something in writing, YOU’VE put it in writing. And you’ve given your employer the opportunity to correct any misunderstanding.

Next, go to your local office supply and pick up a small, bound notebook – NOT a spiral notebook or a ring binder-type notebook, but one that is bound like a regular book, so that if pages are torn out, it’s obvious. Then make sure you don’t tear any pages out of it. Starting on the first page and filling every line on each page, make notations EVERY DAY about what’s going on: what’s happening to you, by whom, what time, where, who was present, who witnessed it, what else was going on at the same time, etc. Write your notes in INK – never pencil. If you make a mistake with a word or statement, simply cross through it with a SINGLE LINE. Never “black out” the entire word or sentence so it’s illegible. Add a notation to indicate why you made the change – and when.

When you’re recording information in your notebook, you should also note other information that can help substantiate the date the note was written. Include exact quotes – complete with quote marks and the name of the person making the statement. Again: Date and Time on every entry.

Here’s an example of what a notebook will look when done correctly. (Use your imagination here: this is your handwriting, not a typed document)

Mon., Jan. 31, 2011 / 6 am – Called in to Supervisor Sam, letting him know I wouldn’t be in because of my asthma, and I was using an FMLA day. Called my doctor to get a refill prescription for inhalers. My wife went to pick up the prescription and while she was out, purchased a book from the bookstore for me called “Working for You Isn’t Working for Me” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elser. I’m sure Supervisor Sam will be mad as a hornet at me tomorrow because I’ve used a couple of FMLA days in the last year.

Tues., Feb.1, 2011 / 9:00 am – Supervisor Sam yelled at me this morning because I took an FMLA day yesterday because my asthma was kicking up and I could barely breathe. Supervisor Sam said, “That’s the fourth time you’ve missed work in the last year! I’ve got customers who need attention – I need you here every day – asthma or no. If you can’t be here, I’ll find someone who can.” Told Supervisor Sam that this wasn’t just an ordinary absence – I used an FMLA day, and had called in using the correct procedure. Told Supervisor Sam that serving the customers is important to me, but my health is important also, and that’s the purpose of FMLA. Supervisor Sam was not happy – he stomped away, grumbling “We’ll see about that. I’ll teach you a lesson about using FMLA.”

Weds., Feb. 2, 2011 / 7 am – Arrived at work to find my desk had been moved to a closet. Supervisor Sam was in his office with a group of employees, all of them laughing at me. Supervisor Sam said my desk would stay in the closet until my attendance improved. I sent an e-mail to Supervisor Sam, confirming what he said and asked him to correct my understanding if I am wrong. Bill B. stopped by and said he was sorry Supervisor Sam was retaliating against me, and that something similar had happened to him last month – Supervisor Sam gave him 3 days off without pay because he used an FMLA day.

With a careful written record of the facts of your situation and all the events surrounding it, you’ll have the “smoking gun” you need to prevail against any unscrupulous “file padding” in which your employer may engage.

mary@undercoverlawyer.com

From Curt: Mary has a few openings to help community members with their documentation, timelines, and EEOC filings.  Her rate is a very reasonable $50 per hour.  Quickly contact her at the email above if you want  her specialized help.

If your story sounds at all similar, be sure to get my FREE “7-Secrets of Work Law” e-mail course. Learn how to fight back against a bully boss.


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Comments

  1. hello.. I am currently working at a fast-food restaurant for almost a 2 years, but lately I’m having a problem with my work,It started like a few moths ago when I called in sick because my 1 year daughter doesn’t have a baby sitter due to a fight with my live in gf. so the next day i worked while i was working with him he told me he needs to talk to me regarding about my no call no show, but I told him i did called the store a few times and no ones answering so i called him and told him I cant work. but he told me due to my past records which is not documented he still have to write me up. but what he knows it’s bcoz of a family problem..so i just said fine we’ll talk about it.. then Wednesday comes a coworker of mine told me that my boss is spreading rumors that i might no longer work with them,so i was so scared to not have a job i accepted the job offer that i put on hold due to my high respects to my boss that he’ll be short staff in the store because of my schedule..i wrote a letter to him stating my dissatisfaction and my new availability to work which is 8am to 4 pm so i can work graveyard in a warehouse at 6 pm to 5 am. but he said to me he cannot give me that much hours they too many people working that shift but i told him i’m a shift manager and i guess he can switch me with other shift managers (note i used to close to 4 nights when every mangers requires to close at least 1 day a week) and he told me he cant move them just to accommodate me.so i just gave up and did that accepting 6 hours a day for 4 days.. then back in may 2011 i graduated in bsm class and the management gave us an allowance of 100 dollars in cash and i finish it with a deans list award and entitled me to get another 100 dollars so the conflict started when i took the check for the deans list award and also another check for the allowance in which my boss later on told me it was suppose to be the store petty cash since i got mine in cash. no documentation made i told him i’ll pay it back when i can…months passed and i wasn’t able to pay it because my hourly wage is not sufficient enough so i have to take care of my house rent and my bills and food first because i’m the only one has work in the family.. so it went for how many months and and continuing with my previous statement, i complained to the area supervisor what had happened
    and explained everything to her,and she told me they really cant give me much hours from what the store needs and I also complained about our assistant manager that seems so jealous of me in a way i see it coz she always find something to complain about me that is not true that my boss knows of..bust still they said they cannot do anything much with but just settle it with my co managers, i tried to work with my assistant managers but she is such a two faced b**tch hard to say. and i also asked my supervisor when i’m going to get my raise that they promise me when i graduated the bsm class coz i have asked my boss twice already but seems to give me hope only but no action being done,first he said i ahve to handle a main task so i did weekly and monthly inventor, i also doing product ordering for the store which make me stay atleast 2 more hours without pay. so she said she talk to our director of operations and i’ll get my answer December, so came the monthe of December and it came up again the 100 dollars i owed so i told him ill pay you next pay check,paycheck comes i forgot i have to pay rent and unfortunately my lil girl caught a fever so i have to buy bunch of stuff like humidifier that i have to spend the money for what i owe the store so since i dind’t pay he took me off the schedule when i found out i was so stressed and upset i went home without telling him..so the next day i came and told him i cant work that day because what just happened is giving me a psychological problems that results to stressful life..he offered me that he’ll pay for it then just pay him back so i said thank you if he could do that for me and he told me he’ll put me back to the schedule.. then next thing you know i found out i wasn’t scheduled again the next week because my gf called her sister who works with me and told her that i dont have any work..so i called my boss why?and he told i still have to pay what i owe before i can come to work.. i asked him isn’t enough? but he just told me i have to pay in order for me to get a schedule? so im even more stressesd,, and i told him if i pay tommorow will you give schedule?and he said yes i’ll fill you in the schedule.. so i went there told him i can only give him 50 for now then give him the rest on friday?can you still give me a schedule? he said he cant? and if i pay it whole will you give me schedule to work tommorrow? and he just said i’ll let them call you if they need you? and i asked him why i thought you’ll squeeze me in?so i decided not to pay and told him ill pay him friday instead coz i’d rather buy the money food for my daughter and gf so we can eat properly that to pay and not have schedule.. so my agency called and offered me a job in a company that has a fixed schedule which is 6 am to 2:30 pm so Friday came i came by and i talked to him and i asked him ima pay now but am i gonna be able to work? and he said yes it old him but i have a new availability i can only start 4 pm till 4 am am i gonna get still my full 40 hours? and he said i cant be done? i told why noy i’m a manger and im entitled to get my 8 hours a day? he he cnt do it he’ll just following what the computer how many people he needs?and he needs me at 2? and i told him i cant coz if i go home early on my other i’ll be terminated and before he was ok for me to work those hours while i was at mt other job? and i told him am i gonna be just part time here?he said basically coz he cnt do anything bout it? i told im sorry but i’m not goin to settle down for that coz unless you demote so i dnt have to be worrying bout getting less hours than what i should get as a manager..but he wont do that.. so i told him i might just settle this in a different way and file a lawsuit for workplace environment harassment sumthing.and he told me go ahead with a laughing face.. and i also brought up again the raise im waitng for? and he said he talked to the director of operartions and that person said he needs to ask the area supervisor?so i told him whats going on?it seems you’re not taking me seriously?y pointing fingers?whose decision is it to make wether to give my raise?and then i walked out due to what happend. later that day he kept on calling me but i refuse to answer it. he left me a messae and tells me he talked to the supervisor na dagreed to give me a 50 cents raise??? but regarding bout the hours he cnt give?coz he cnt cut or move other employees so i can also have my 8 hours?in which they said always managers always work 8 hours no matter what because they are the strong one that the store needs..and today i talked to him on the fone and asked him am i gona be working this week? he said yes as long as i pay what i owe. i told i cnt pay him now because i just give it to my landlord to pay off what i owe her for rent?ill pay him on the next paycheck..and he said i cnt.. isnt enough he suspended me for 2 weeks?and i think im not entitled to pay that anymore? and what about my unpaid overtime which is not documented?can i go after them for that?i have other people as witness because he done it with them too? and he said i could go ahead and talked to the owner as much as i want because hes not scared coz i got no basis and i got no case? i felt im discriminated for what hes doing due to having na second job?and not taking actions on my problems with the assistant manager?i requested a transfer but he wont aloow it? do u think i have a case in both ways? labor and workplace harrasment? if i do what do i need to do? please help?

  2. browbeaten says:

    I am a Skin Therapist and have presently worked for my employer for 4 years. I am in contract with her for 3 more years. Throughout my time, she has been very demeaning and has utterly humiliated me in front of the clientele. She lets them know of my short comings, mistakes, personal business, and has even tapped me on the head and said “Is anyone in there?”. Every time she degrades me, she ruins my credibility and trust with the clients. I would love to leave, but I’m in contract. I wish one of the clients would substantiant my claim, but they are all loyal to the establishment and wouldn’t dare “rock the boat” (I work for an upper class salon..small matters to the wealthy). Is there any hope for me? I really don’t live in a big city and a career change doesn’t look very hopeful at this stage of my life.

  3. I have currently been employed at my company for close to 12 years. I transferred to a new division 8 months ago. I enjoyed my job and in fact it was pretty darn close to being my dream job. About 3 months ago our owner turned this division over to his son. His son brought in his own team of President and two managers. Their first act was to fire two older men, they then started reorganization of our department. They changed my managers position and had me reporting to a manager that I had been in an adversarial role with prior to this change in organization. I expressed my concerns with this structure to the two new managers, they in turn reported to the owners son that I refused to work with the individual. They have also revamped my job duties with far less responsibilities. I brought up safety concerns and that was also relayed to the owners son that I didn’t know what I was talking about. The upshot was that the owners son came to our offices and said “let’s talk” I assumed we would be going to one of the offices instead once we were down the hallway he said let’s get a cup of coffee. I had no reason to think this would be less than a talk. We left the offices me without my purse or phone and got into his vehicle. Once we left the parking lot and were out on the road he began raising his voice at me regarding the safety issue I had brought up, the fact that I spoke to others in the company regarding some of the problems with this division, he was angry at two other men at another branch who he had confrontations with. I was trapped I couldn’t get out of the car, I couldn’t beat him and his dad owns the company. This has resulted in panic attacks, I had PTSD quite a few years back and this incident has caused ongoing problems, I have had to take some time off to see a doctor and reach the counselor that I saw before.
    I went and saw HR and discussed what had happened, problems with safety at this division, hostile work environment based on age and sex, I was asked to waive my overtime and the general lack of clear direction.

    HR took notes and asked me what I wanted them to do, I am not versed in what to do from an HR standpoint. There were additional problems (safety and time keeping) about a week later that I again tried to talk to HR about. The Head of HR and the manager came to our offices for a meeting with three members of the new management team. During the course of the meeting I was told that safety was not my issue and to stick to my knitting. If I didn’t have problems with the managers before being relegated as having to stick to my knitting sure didn’t help.

    I am currently off for a week with a doctors note to try to get the panic attacks under control. I am also contemplating contacting workmans compensation to offset the doctor bills and the loss time (no income) while I am dealing with this.

    Then men in my department are also older and the management team is also constantly correcting or writing these men up or pulling them away from their jobs to do this or that. In the meantime they are hiring several other staff members all under 30. One of these new managers told me that “we are hiring a couple of girls to help you at your duties”.

    How do you handle things like this.

  4. jms07,

    What is happening to you is wrong. You cannot (legally) be punished for speaking up about safety concerns. I recommend that while you are out, before going back, you file a report with your state’s OSHA department. State that you have already reported these same safety concerns once internally, and instead of addressing the concerns you were punished for raising safety issues.

    HR, as you are learning the painful way, is not there to help you. HR is there to help the company. I just shook my head when I read where you reported everything to HR, and HR says to you “What do you want us to do?” Well, HR, how about doing your f#$!ing job!! Sorry, it just makes me so mad the way HR keeps people in the dark while pretending to be the employees’ friend. If HR ever asks you again, say “I want you to make sure management does not discriminate against me further or retaliate against me in any way for reporting discrimination.” But don’t expect anything from HR. They are there to protect the company, not you.

    If your current leave is not classified as FMLA leave, please take the FMLA forms to your doctor and bring the forms back to your company so your absence will be legally protected.

    Then, you need to decide whether: 1) to file an EEOC complaint alleging age and sex discrimination and retaliation for reporting both, or; 2) hiring a lawyer to do the same for you.

    Finally, consider getting a doctor to fill out FMLA forms pre-approving you for “intermittent leave” due to panic attacks stemming from your PTSD and this idiot owners-son who “falsely imprisoned” you in his car.

    You’re in a tough spot. Hang in there and learn how to use your legal rights. It sounds like you’re doing a good job so far.

    Curt

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