I started a new job six weeks ago. From day one, my three female co-workers made it clear they didn’t welcome me, making comments such as “we weren’t the ones who hired you.” Apparently they had wanted the friend of one of them hired and considered it unfair that I out-interviewed her.
I’ve done my best to make friends with them, but they don’t give me a chance. I brought muffins on my first day, and when I went into the break room for a second cup of coffee, I saw them in the trash. I tried to sit with them at lunchtime, but when I approached their table, one gave me a look that said I wasn’t welcome. I backed away and had my lunch alone at my work station.
My second week, someone left tall stacks of files on my desk when I went to the bathroom. When I asked one of them “what are these?” she said “work.” I looked through the files but couldn’t figure out what they were. I went to my supervisor and she showed me how to file away the files. I l told her what had happened with the muffins and she said I needed to “be patient” and not try to “push my way in.” She said the individual who made the hiring decision, her manager, wanted to hire me because he thought it would be a good idea to have a younger person in the department. Then she said “maybe you need to cover up your tattoos.”
Yesterday, the maintenance guy, who’s been nice to me, told me he didn’t want to upset me but thought I should know what had been written about me in the men’s bathroom. It’s too vulgar to put in the newspaper. I’ve never before gone to human resources to complain, but I didn’t know what else to do. I asked the HR person to keep my visit confidential. She told me that unless someone saw who had written the comment, she couldn’t do anything about it and to let her know if anything else happened.
I’m all alone here. What do I do?
Someone knows something, and HR and your supervisor need to stand by you and not expect you to run this gantlet alone. HR needs to interview every employee and ask what they know and to carefully evaluate each employee’s nonverbal reactions to being questioned. Even if HR doesn’t find the answer to who wrote the bathroom comment, left the files on your desk or dumped your muffins in the trash, HR’s interviews can make it clear “the gig is up.”
Your supervisor should have done more than show you where to file the stacks and counsel you to be patient and cover your tattoos. Her job includes making sure you’re welcomed into the department. You gave her clear, physical evidence that you’ve been hazed. Unless you’ve done something other than bring muffins and hope to sit with your new co-workers at lunch, I’m not sure how you’ve been pushy.
What do you need to do? You’ve already done many right things. You brought muffins. You let your supervisor and HR know what’s going on. If these two don’t immediately step in to help you, meet with the manager who wanted you hired. Outline the toxic situation you’ve encountered and mention that you’ve got at least one witness, that you’re being targeted, the maintenance man.
At the least, this hiring manager needs to deal with an entrenched co-worker group that thinks it’s OK to treat a new employee cruelly. At the worst, you have a potential age discrimination lawsuit and can name your co-workers, supervisor and HR manager for allowing it to continue after you brought it to their attention.
© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com