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Hostile Work Environment Definition

STEP 5 of Walking The Plank Toward Termination: Is Your Boss Hassling You About Tiny Aspects of Your Work?

If you feel like your boss has suddenly started hassling you about tiny, and seemingly irrelevant aspects of your job, then a red flag should go up in your mind.  This is another tell-tale sign that your boss is on the hunt for an employee to terminate — you.

Your boss may be trying to “build a record” of documented mistakes you have made, in order to justify terminating you. Your boss probably has not given you any negative feedback for years, if ever. And when the boss evaluates the major parts of your job — everything is fine. So, instead of noting your solid performance and moving on, your boss redoubles his or her efforts to find something, anything, that you are doing wrong.

This leads your boss into the tiny minutiae of your job — items that you can’t really say are unimportant, but are often get done not exactly “by the book.”  Your boss comes in, and makes a huge deal about something you are doing that is not EXACTLY “by the book.”

Everything works fine.  And your boss has never cared.  Until now.

But to your boss, this is an end-of-the-world problem you’ve caused.

Step back and realize, your boss’s reaction fits with how bad the boss wants to let you go; your boss’s reaction does not fit with how bad a mistake you actually made.

What Should You Do?

1. Ask your boss what is going on

Be polite about this. Don’t sneer and be sarcastic. Simply state that its obvious that something has changed, and ask what happened? Why the change?

You’re probably going to hear something like “Well I found one obvious error in your work, so I’m worried that there are other errors in your work that are not so obvious.” This is how your boss will justify tearing through your desk and computer in search of any mistake that could possibly justify terminating you. How to deal with this is the next tip…

2. Ask what your boss needs to see from you in order to win their trust back

The directness and honesty of saying this will knock your boss off-balance.  For just a moment, they will think to themselves “Maybe there is a better employee here than I realized…”  You must seize that moment.  Follow up with something like, “I want to show you that I still deserve the trust you once had in me.  What would you like to see from me in order to get that trust back?”

If your boss starts telling you what they want to see, then you’ve won.  That’s because a boss is not going to give an employee a list of goals, and then terminate the employee the next day.  So take careful note of that list that comes pouring out of your boss’s mouth — make sure they are measurable goals, and achieve them.  You will save your job.

BUT, if your boss does not respond with a list of things he or she wants to see from you, then you know your job situation is truly dire.  For example, your boss may say, “I don’t know, let me think on that one.”  Or, “I’m surprised to hear you say that… wish you had said that earlier…” (and then walks away).

So if your boss doesn’t give you a list of things to improve, and continues hassling you about the tiniest aspects of your work, then you know you are one step further down the plank toward termination.  It may be time to consider legal defenses, that do not rely on changing your boss’s mind about you.

Have you had a boss that micro manages your work, hassling you about the tinies aspects of your work?  Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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  1. This sounds like exactly what I’m dealing with right now, with one exception, he is trying to have me moved. I like where I am despite the many problems and I don’t want to be forced out. That would be letting him win. I could file a sexual discrimination charge against him but it would make things worse. I think that knowledge is the main reason he wants me gone. He is afraid I will act on it. How do I protect myself? He won’t talk to me about anything just yells at me to get out of the office and drop the subject. There is a lot more to it, more that I can go into here.

  2. Pixela,

    You certainly do NOT deserved to be moved, or forced out, because you boss is afraid that you “have something” on him.

    You said that filing the sex discrimination charge “would make things worse”, but would it really? Worse than moving away from the area and people you like?

    It’s so very hard, and scary, to confront or turn-in a boss. But you CAN do it. You owe it to yourself, and to the others who have been (or will be) abused by this jerk.

    Most people feel unsupported, and so they don’t speak up. That’s part of what this site (particularly the forum) can do for you. There’s lots of good people there who are going through exactly the same thing as you.

    -Curt K

  3. I was just written up today, as i walk that plank…
    I’ve been working in a hostile work environment for the last 2 years or so. Last July/08 I contacted the EEOC regarding the situtation because i felt i was being harrased and pushed to quit my job. the deputy at the EEOC interviewed me and advised that attempt to resolve the issue with my HR department. I did this promptly on the 25th of July i wrote the HR director and copied my manager. The HR Director did an investigation that included interviewing me, and providing me with a summary of her findings. She promised a couple of times to set up an appt to have a meeting with my manager to discuss the situation but that never happened. Today i was written up for the same reasons that i was stating that were going to be used against me. My claim is that i am treated diferently, harrassed (exposed to a hostile work environment), discriminated. i based my claim on showing where others did not have to follow the rules that were set for me and that when a co-worker complained about me my manager quickly took verbal action with me but when i complained the issue was addresssed to no one in particular. opportunities such as training and equipment that were offere to the young, white, mostly male team members were not offered to me without any explanation.

    what do you think my next course of action should be, do i go back to the EEOC? Any advise would be greatly appreciated Curt.

    — Doreen

  4. Dear Curt,
    I was working for Super KMart more than 2 years now. As a cashier, I am the only one Asian American in the whole store. I was treated unfairly by my supervisors, I was put in Register# 1 everyday. When I mentioned about that they told me I am the only one the adult who is supposed to be there. One day I put a note on my Register about racism in America, they are trying to write me up but I refused to sign it because I felt that this is my freedom of expression in the Store. Since that time, I was treated unfairly more and more. On January 11, they put me again on Register 1, aroud 8 o’clock, I had a couple customer, the guy he put his stuff on the conveyor, but he went out. He is a black. His girl friend is a white, and who stuff is this, she said this is mine. I asked where he went, she said I didn’t know. I told her he might be out with someone. Behind the said customer was a black lady who is out of control came into my line, she said you are not supposed to say that, I told her for what she said you want to lose your job I will kick you out from KMart. I told her this is not your business, and when the guy came back she told her what we are talking about and he is the same manner like the black lady. She called me Chinese shit and grapped the receipt and walked out. I gave to her the receipt, and she grapped it and made a report to the manager. Two managers were waiting for her at Customer Services desk because they seem to know what is going to be in the Store with me. I think they are conspiracy hate group. All of them are blacks. HR manager called me to her office to write me up. I told her I didn’t throw the receipt to her but she grapped from my hand. She said I was rude, but I told her she called me Chinese Shit,and she grapped the receipt. Today I spoke with the Assistant Director to the Store, and she said I will let you go because you throw the receipt to the Customer. Many cahiers had many problems with customers, but they tried to ignore it. Ashley who is one of the Supervisors asked me did you eat Sushi everyday and she made fun of my accent everyday. I am sure that I was discriminated based on my race/ national origin/age, therefore please give me what should I do for the next step. Please give me some legal advice.
    Norfolk, VA

  5. I just quit my job of 18 yrs. I had to. I’m in my upper 50’s and believe me was a tough decision. But my health was at stake. My boss was everything Curt said: bully, harassed me monthly, made a hostile work environment, bad personnel reviews and two warning letters. He said he didn’t want to work with me since day 1 after management had me swap jobs with the lady that was there before me and reminded me monthly. He even lied on one of the documents that spawned the first warning letter. I submitted a memo with emails from him that proved I was right. HR didn’t care, didn’t remove his letter and totally ignored anything I had to say. I had complained to his boss earlier that he had not trained me for this new job and am sure it got back to him. A few months later my personnel review was a disaster. So with having health issues, I left for 7 mos short term disability with severe depression and anxiety and minor heart issues. When I decided to return it would be to work in the same job, same manager. My doctor’s recommendation was that I could not work for him in that environment. So I had to quit and have filed for unemployment hoping they don’t deny me but feel they will. I have seen 3 attorneys who said they did nothing illegal and can’t take any legal action. Maybe a slight case of age discrimination. I have been looking to see if he can be sued in the state he lives in or where the company is headquartered. I live in Florida were the at will laws have no protection for employees. All my friends at work, my relatives, know the situation and were shocked when I came to say goodbye. I think I would have been fired after I returned and then not able to get unemployment. I had to do this. I hope your readers can avoid this especially with the economy and high unemployment. If you think I have kind of action, please let me know. I’d just like to keep my job at the company but not under him. Guys like this need to be made an example of in the court system.

  6. I have been working 4 this company almost 4 yrs. It is a fairly new comany of 5 1/2 years. I am one of the few origonals left. I have been hoping and training for the replacement of my supervisor (so I thought, now I am not so sure i was only to be a backup when needed) when her time is up for this position to return home. I believe I am being singled out and hassled compared to other employees in my department. My boss is in the US on a work visa. Her visa is about to expire; 1 of 2 things i am sure is happening…quite possibly BOTH. 1. My boss is trying to ensure as much negative information, write ups, complaints, confrontations etc, is gatered to put in my employee file. 2. I am being harrassed, provoked, into quiting. I have been subject to crude, controlling, harassing behavior for some time. Recently it has become almost unbearable. I have been to HR about this on several occasions in the past year maybe year and a half. But more recently in the past few months, and the past week especially. Nothing is ever done. i am the only female in my department and it is no secret that the Italians believe women have a certain place in the workforce. It is also no secret that MOST Italians also beleive they are superior to the Americans, I will not say all because a couple I have become friends with do not feel this way. “Stupid American” is a common phrase used by my supervisor. Although, granted, she is a women, her position was promised to her in order for her to accompany her boyfriend at the time to the US. As this was the only way she could aquire a work visa. Since, they have married, which also creates a conflict with him being Plant Manager and her a Supervisor. She follows me all the time…even into the bathrooms. She does not follow any of the other employees, only me. I get ridiculed for the smallest things. She tries EXTRA hard to find the smallest thing wrong. I feel stuck with no one to help me. HR doesnt care; and she is sleeping with the Manager, so those options are of no use. I believe it is a joint effort to discredit my job performance as I am the only one who can do her job. To my knowledge if there is someone who can fill the position for which she is applying for a visa renewal, it could be denied. Her husband I believe has a 7 year, she has a 5 yr. He has been heard telling other employees it is up to her if they stay. How??…she cannot control the visa renewal….but she can control if someone is able to replace her???!!! The intent was for the Italians to come to the US and train Americans to run the facility. Not one woman has been appointed a supervisor position. The male positions that have been appointed have been new positions, not a position where an Italian has fullfilled his training obligations for a replacement and returned. Many employees former and present would be willing to back me. There is also an issue of an accident involving the Manager and a floor employee, where hospital treatment and time off was required. The truth of the incident was covered up as to avoid a drug test for the manager. The HR and the Safety Mgr. had full knowledge of the truth and chose to proceed with covering it up. As you see this all a shady situation with some shady people and no one to turn to. I really like my job and the work I do. I know I am good at it, and i think she knows this is a threat to her. I do not want to lose my job, which is why I am posting to see if there is any advice to help me save my job.

  7. I decided to get a part time job (February of this year) because I need a job and was hoping this would turn into full time. Everything was going great…minus the usual slip-ups of getting used to new computer systems and such. I was getting praise (from day 1) of what a great worker I am and how I am now the 2nd best there on their computer system, and how they love me, etc…. I love everyone I work with. It’s like a family. Lately, though, I feel like I am no longer wanted there.
    It all started a couple of weeks ago when I ruined my hair with some bleach. I couldn’t go out in public with the way it looked (I was embarassed) so I decided to cover it with a bandanna. My boss told me the minute she saw me that she could deal with the piercings, and the tattoos…but not the ‘do-rag’. According to her it looks ‘ghetto’ whatever that means. So, we agreed that I could wear a baseball hat. Cool. I have no problem with that. As a few days roll on, however, things have taken a nose dive. A brand new worker just came in a couple of days ago to replace the head designer. True, he can do some things that I never got a chance to try in my 15 years of this type of business (floral design). So…where I am lucky to be working 2 days a week this guy comes in full time and I’m sure at a great amount of pay (I am minimum at this point…trial run, you see) and then, out of the blue a few days ago my boss tells me she is sorry but she is going to have to reduce my hours to one day a week because of the economy. In the meantime, this new guy now has a full time job and the job and people I’d grown accustomed to now looks like it’s on the verge of becoming non-existent. I wouldn’t be upset, but I truly enjoy working there and thought these were some of the coolest people going. Now I don’t know whether they really like me or whether I’m just another luckless employee like the lady they let go right after I came in. They reduced her time to once a week admitting that they hoped she’d just quit. And she did.
    The only other thing that I can figure, if it isn’t that, is that I am being discriminated against because A. I have tattoos B. I have piercings and/or C. My hair. I am a very open minded person and have always believed in that old saying of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover”. I always try to find the good in everyone…although, of course, there are the occasional people who just are impossible to get along with.

    Oh…and the latest thing is, some of the older and more “conservative” customers were put off by my ink…so now I am wearing a jacket to work. (I live in FLORIDA)!

  8. JoAnn, You are in a tough spot for sure — especially having to wear a jacket to work in Florida! Ugh!

    The thing about being discriminated against because of tattoos, piercings or hair is that those are not “protected classes”. There’s nothing illegal about treating you worse because of those things. What you need to do is identify some reasons why you are being treated worse that ARE protected. Like this guy that is getting all the hours is a male, and you are a female. Your gender IS a protected class.

    If you are unfamiliar with the protected class idea, sign up for my free email course (green box, top right) or consider getting the book “Work Laws Exposed.”

    Also, you should be aware that you can file for unemployment when your hours are cut, not just when you are laid off. So you may want to consider that too. There’s a link to FL unemployment if you click on “State Resources” in the menu bar at the top of this page.

    Good luck and keep us posted.


  9. Thank you! I will certainly check that out!

    It’s not so much the tattoo thing that I am complaining about. It’s the fact that when I first started working there, from day one I kept hearing them making snide comments about a lady who, at that time, was working there. After a couple of weeks of cutting her time down to finally just one day a week, she quit…just as they admitted they hoped she would. The reason they wanted her to quit, rather than just firing her, was because they were afraid they would have to pay unemployment. The only reason I am hanging in there at this point is mainly because I don’t want to ‘give in’ as well as I woul at least hope that maybe (if she really is trying to get rid of me) she will at least give me a good reference. She would be lying if she told anyone I wasn’t a hardworker, didn’t come in on time and failed to do everything she asked me Ino matter how humiliating).

  10. Keep in mind that you CAN file for and get unemployment even if you quit the job, IF, you can show that you forced to quit. What they did to the poor lady before you is a perfect example of an employer who assumes the employee will not be eligible for unemployment, but she absolutely would have received it.

  11. How can I prove that, though? There’s only she and I there usually. And another lady, who I am sure wouldn’t want to get involved. Albeit, she feels the same way a lot of times. (However, she is in her 70s and was working there before my boss took over.) She did just about quit a couple of weeks ago when my boss aked her to give one of her 2 days to this new guy because “he doesn’t want to miss any days” (it was a holiday weekend). And I forgot to mention the 20 something girl she actually did fire the a few days ago (or so I heard). She had told me that she wanted to let this girl go because all she did was set and play with her phone, and that if she did fire her…I could work her day, thus having my 2 days back. I haven’t heard a peep about that. I probably wouldn’t even know the girl had been fired had the other lady I mentioned not told me.
    There’s only a total of 5 of us that are working there weekly now. There are some drivers who come in on holidays. And no one is full time asides from the boss and this guy.
    Tomorrow is my day to go back (I work Mondays). I will let you know how it goes. In the meantime I am trying desparately to find something else…something full time. My husband has no job. He is in his late 50s with a bad back. And I am in my mid 40s with no skills other than floral design. I did it when I got out of high school for 13 years. And I don’t drive. We are completely broke, asides from the pitiful checks I am bringing in. We are 6 months behind on our rent (for the life of me I can’t understand why we haven’t gotten an eviction notice yet, other than the landlords are people who truly care). I don’t know how we are going to pay the water and electricity and gas for the car this month, we were managing those bills with the 2 days I had. If it weren’t for food stamps and food banks we’d be starving. I am very scared because I know that there is no way we will survive if we wind up on the street. We have no family that we can turn to. And the few friends we have made since moving here are in similar circumstances, albeit not as dire. My boss knows all of this, and she seemed concerned when she first hired me. I was even working extra days for awhile. I’m wondering, if because we still haven’t gotten evicted, she thinks I’m lying? We don’t even know where to turn for help other than foodstamps and we have gotten our bills paid through charity a few times.


  1. says:

    STEP 5 of Walking The Plank Toward Termination: Is Your Boss Hassling You About Tiny Aspects of Your Work? | UndercoverLawyer…

    If you boss starts harassing you about tiny aspects of your work, and digging through your desk for tiny mistakes, then your boss wants to terminate you….

  2. says:

    STEP 5 of Walking The Plank Toward Termination: Is Your Boss Hassling You About Tiny Aspects of Your Work? | UndercoverLawyer…

    If you boss starts harassing you about tiny aspects of your work, and digging through your desk for tiny mistakes, then your boss wants to terminate you….

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