In two previous articles a 52 year old nurse named Lenora was harassed and abused by her new (younger) boss and former co-worker Michelle. Feeling distressed and sick, Lenora stayed home from work and called her brother in law, a corporate employment lawyer named Curt.
Although he usually works on the side of the employers, he wanted to help his family member. Talking on the phone and over lunch Curt explained the difference between legal and illegal hostile work environments, and explained why the concept of “employment at will” is so crucial to fighting back against a bullying boss.
Lenora wants to turn her boss Michelle into the hospital’s human resources department for “unfairly” attacking Lenora at work. Curt is trying to persuade Lenora to let go of the idea of “unfairness”, because U.S. employment law does not require supervisors to be fair.
It is shocking to Lenora that employment “at-will” actually allows employers to terminate workers at any time, for any reason or no reason (even a bad reason), just so long as it’s not an illegal reason. As we re-join their conversation, Curt is trying to explain to Lenora that the best way to fight back against a hostile work evnironment is to focus on the “illegal reasons” instead of focusing on “fairness”.
Fight With Fairness, or With a Protected Class?
Curt Urges Lenora to Forget “Fairness”
“Thanks for returning my call, Curt; you’ve been very generous with your time,” said Lenora.
“Anything for family, Lenora. And besides, I don’t want you to go and screw yourself by thinking you can get what’s ‘fair’”, said Curt.
“Said like a true lawyer,” Lenora replied. “Right, I shouldn’t believe that fairness matters. Do people really pay you hundreds of dollars an hour to tell them stuff like this?”
“The pay me many hundreds per hour, because I know what works. It may not sound like what you want to hear, but it will get you where you want to go. Fighting back against an abusive boss is not path down a flowery trail marked ‘Fairness: this way’. It’s a tough journey that requires you to take up arms and fight.”
“Now you sound like a football coach.”
“Okay, I’m going to hang up the phone now–”
“No no no! Sorry. I’m just frustrated. Michelle can treat me like crap, and when I turn to attorney for help what’s the first thing out of his mouth? ‘It’s perfectly legal for you boss to treat you like crap.’”
“But there’s more to the rule!” said Curt. “There are exceptions to the rule that it’s legal for your boss to treat you like crap. That’s what I’m trying to tell you about: the exceptions.”
Your Protected Class is the Key
“But you are also telling me that one of the exceptions is NOT fairness, right?” “Yes, right,” said Curt. “Well I still say that’s stupid, ” said Lenora. “Supervisors should not be able to drive you out your job and some tiny little mistake while allowing other people to gossip their entire day away.”
“And what I’m trying to tell you is that the law doesn’t allow supervisors to do that if the people getting run out of their jobs are all older men, and the gossipers are all younger women. Or if it’s Asians getting run out of their job, while all the gossipers are Caucasian. Or pregnant women getting run out, or veterans or… well do you see what I mean?”
“I think so. Even though I’m upset Michelle is getting away with attacking me unfairly, I can’t say that.”
“Right,” said Curt. “You have to say, ‘Michelle is attacking me and singling me out because of my age. Because THAT is illegal. THAT will get H.R.’s attention. They don’t care about unfairness because no law prohibits unfairness. Saying all this crap Michelle is putting you through at work is happening because of your age is what will turn you from a whiner into a warrior.”
“Okay, I get it and I’ll do it. Even though I still think the law should be different. Don’t complaint about unfairness. Complain about mistreatment because of age.” Lenora smiled to herself. “I can’t wait to get back to work and do this.”
Abused at Work?
Can You Identify With Lenora?
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