When you’re building your career, it’s easy to get caught up in misconceptions. Errors in judgment can lead to being on the wrong end of abusive behavior by a supervisor. When these uncomfortable occurrences happen again and again, you wonder if you should you speak up and make a complaint. The more you work, the more experience you will gain. In the meantime, the more you learn, the more you’ll launch yourself ahead of the curve. You may wonder if the time for complaints is at hand or if should you just grin and bear it. It’s a good idea to learn what’s in your control legally and what’s not. It’s important to learn how a company’s culture or a bad manager can impact your professional goals. Learn when a manager steps over the line and creates a legally actionable situation.
Have Complaints About a Boss?
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Dysfunctional Yes, But Is It Legally Actionable?
Sometimes, whether it’s a dysfunctional manager or culture, it’s not illegal. It’s just dysfunction. And when you look at the situation, it may be time for you to make a change and begin building your career elsewhere. It does not help your career growth to move from company to company too often. But on the other hand, strategic moves based on more responsibility or higher visibility are good for a career.
Variety in the Workplace May Result in Complaints
In today’s workforce, there as many as five generations engaged. These generations include traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z. Each generation brings its own talents, skills, experiences, and expectations to the workplace.
The longer you work, the more you learn and refine skills including interpersonal, problem-solving, teamwork, and business etiquette skills. Many of these workplace skills are learned only on the job. As Julius Caesar said, “Experience is the teacher of all things.”
Before such experience is acquired, younger employees often have questions about the place where they work and how employees are treated in that workplace. For example, if you have an unfriendly workplace, can you do anything about it legally as an employee? Are you subject to the whims of your manager’s moods? What if your supervisor yells at you when a project is late? Can you sue him or her?
What if your office culture falls on the other end of the spectrum? Perhaps your boss says that your workplace is like a family. After all, you celebrate birthdays and go to happy hours together, right? You know about each other’s kids and know the names of everyone’s pets. You spend more time with your co-workers than your actual family, so what’s the harm? What should you think when your manager describes your workplace as a family?
When Complaints Actually Become Legal Claims, You May Wish to Pursue
Let’s explore some common misconceptions and shed some light on them from a legal perspective. You may have a claim if your boss’s behavior Is so extreme and outrageous that it exceeds the bounds of civilized society.
The Mean Boss
You had a bad day at work. Your boss yelled at you because of a late project and acted like a jerk. This wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. You feel you can’t continue working under these conditions. You want to fight back legally. You feel that no boss should be able to treat you this way. It’s just wrong. It’s not fair.
Unfortunately, having a jerk as a boss doesn’t give you the legal right to sue him or her. Just because you don’t think your workplace is fair, doesn’t mean you have a valid lawsuit. Your boss’s behavior may be unprofessional or intolerable. But it may not be illegal.
You may have a cause of action and can file a lawsuit if you’re working in a hostile work environment based on illegal behavior. Yelling and screaming at employees is not necessarily illegal, although you may think such behavior is. Your boss may get into legal trouble, though, if his or her hostile or harassing behavior:
- Is directed solely at people in protected classes, based on race, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, or other similar classifications.
- Becomes a condition of continued employment.
- Becomes severe enough that a reasonable person would consider the action to be hostile behavior or abusive behavior.
It is Important to Document Your Complaints
If your boss’s yelling bouts include sexist references, racial slurs, or other derogatory comments, then your boss’s behavior may justify a legal claim. But this behavior then must be so severe that it interferes with an employee’s ability to do his or her job. To pursue a legal claim, you must be able to produce evidence of such behavior and how it directly affected you in the workplace. It is also helpful to have witness testimony.
If you have a boss who is headed down this track, report the incidents to your human resources department. Be thorough and refer to any written notes or witnesses that you may have. Make sure your human resources department documents your complaints.
The Family Workplace may be a Fertile Situation for Abusive Behavior, or Maybe Not
Let’s now shift to the other end of the pendulum. Your boss assures you that at your workplace, It’s like family. Probably, there’s no menacing undertone from your boss. Most managers are attempting to create a model where their employees have a sense of belonging. With a family-like environment, managers hope to develop long-lasting, personal relationships with their employees, who in turn feel loyal to the company. Developing a family culture at work, however, can backfire. Often, boundaries are overstepped, and the dividing line between work and personal life becomes blurred.
Negative Results can lead to Complaints
Negative results could arise out of this blurring of the lines. For example, employees may be expected to work more extended hours out of loyalty, while overlooking cuts in pay or benefits. Additionally, a one-way street of loyalty could develop where the employees are expected to be loyal to the company, and the company does not return such dedication to the employees. This lack of support can extend beyond compensation and benefits to workload, praise, and career development, just to name a few. The employee could get the short end of the stick on the family approach to work.
Further, the term family is not a positive term for all employees. For some employees, it’s a warm, fuzzy, curl up by the window with a cup of tea type of word. For others, it means dysfunction. Family can be a loaded word.
A Winning Team Employs a Teamwork Approach
Better than a family-approach is a philosophy of teamwork. For example, sports teams work together to achieve one goal—to win. The make-up of the group may change over time, but the purpose and the goals of that team remain on track. Creating teams comprised of individual members is the best way for those employees to become successful, together and separately. Teams build loyalty, encourage each member to perform at the highest level, and work toward mutually beneficial goals. The employees who can’t keep up or play at the same level lose their position on the team.
Learn to Identify the Differences in Team Dynamics at the Job Interview
As a younger employee, what do you need to know about the terms family and team in the workplace? Evaluate whether using the term family automatically is a no-go. Or, determine if the term teamwork is an absolute yes. It’s not always clear and you may need further evaluation before taking that job. Don’t decide right away if you hear either of these words. Ask questions about what those words mean to your boss and to the company. When you hear those or similar words in an interview, the interviewer should want to emphasize communication, acceptance, caring, and commitment within the organization. These words typically are not a cue for dysfunction, such as inflexibility, working without purpose, or working without keeping your career goals in mind.
Reach Out to Us
If you have questions about your employee rights in the workplace, then you should contact an experienced employment law attorney at Kilgore & Kilgore. To get the conversation started, click here and fill in and send the form to us Contact Kilgore & Kilgore.