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Numerous co-worker warnings that immediate supervisor has targeted you for job elimination hostile?

I am new to HR. How should I respond to this situation: Numerous co-workers have issued warnings in confidence that a superior is “targeting” the employee for dismissal. And, the work environment has become untenable with on-going counseling sessions per this supervisor and critical evaluations of all duties performed by an individual in front of other employees. To the point the individual is afraid to come to work, not sleeping and not eating, losing weight and extremely stressed. Work setting is in healthcare. Individual has made memorandums to the effect that warnings are being issued by co-workers and HR and department manager have been advised. Individual has asked for relief from a threatening environment and not received a positive response as the feeling of threat continues. Is this considered a hostile work environment per
Alabama state Labor Law?

The concept of a *hostile work environment* is one of the least understood principles in HR. No, this probably does not meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment.

Alabama does not have a law that addresses a hostile work environment — the relevant statute is federal, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, national ancestry, or sex. Similar laws prohibit discrimination based on age (between 40 and 70), pregnancy, disability or genetic information.

Under the law, a hostile work environment occurs when an employee is the target of negative behavior due to their protected status — in other words, because of their race, color, religion, sex, etc. The hostile work environment usually results from actions by coworkers, but may result from the actions of supervisors. However, a key is that management must be aware of the abuse, and refuse to stop it.

The bottom line is, if this supervisor is targeting the employee due to the employees race, color, sex, etc. then that may very well be a hostile work environment. However, if the supervisor is targeting this employee because the supervisor does not like her, or believes that she does a poor job, that is NOT a hostile work environment.

Some recent examples of hostile work environments prosecuted by the EEOC:

A female New Jersey firefighter received pictures of naked women in her inbox every day for a year. The culprits were male coworkers, who did not want a woman firefighter on the force, and her employer was aware of the problem but took no steps to correct it.

An African-American factory worker in Pennsylvania found nooses in his locker at work repeatedly. There was racist graffiti including the n-word on the walls in the work area, and KKK literature in the employee break room. Apparently the culprits were coworkers. The employer was aware of this situation, and did nothing to correct it.

A deaf store manager in Texas was repeatedly taunted to her face and behind her back with jibes like *CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?* and *DO YOU HAVE YOUR EARS ON?* Amazingly, the culprits were her district manager and the HR person. The employer was aware of the situation and took no steps to correct it.

Frankly, it is childish for the employee to make memoranda to HR and management that the supervisor is targeting her (unless it is based on her protected status.) It is entirely reasonable for a supervisor to target an employee who is doing a poor job — there is nothing unethical or unsavory about it. Repeated counseling sessions are aimed at making this person a better employee, not on abuse.

Even if the supervisor has taken an unreasonable dislike to this employee, unless it is based on the employees race, color, religion, sex, national ancestry, disability, age (between 40 and 70), pregnancy or genetic information, it is almost certainly lawful.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, September 12th, 2009 at 5:13 pm and is filed under
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4 Responses to “Numerous co-worker warnings that immediate supervisor has targeted you for job elimination hostile?”

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  3. Holden Repair Manual Says:

    Is it appropriate and/or legal for an employer to request an employee to submit his/her retirement papers before that employee is ready to do so? My spouse (age 65)is a high school teacher with over 29 years with the school district. The principal, human resources and an assistant principle have asked for her resignation on several occasions. Since she has never had any disciplinary actions against her,I find this to be a most inappropriate tactic to get rid of veteran teachers who are high on the pay scale. Is it legal for them to do so? Thanks

  4. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Holden! This is not appropriate and is probably illegal age discrimination. Your wife should consult an attorney or file a complaint. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

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