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Your Office Coach

Retaliation: Reporting bigoted boss to HR creates quandary

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Question:  “Our office manager constantly takes aim at minorities and older employees. After we sent an anonymous letter to the human resources manager about this woman’s prejudiced behavior, he posted a notice saying only signed complaints will be investigated. If we sign our names, we know the manager will retaliate.  She has a history of firing people who protest her heavy-handed tactics, and her boss wholeheartedly supports her. If human resources won’t consider our complaint, what can we do?” — No Way Out

Marie’s Answer:  Workplace grievances always present a challenge for management. Responding to anonymous notes can encourage frivolous accusations, while requiring signatures may inhibit legitimate complaints and invite reprisals. In your situation, here are some points to consider:

•    Your unsigned document might actually have done more good than you realize. Although an official investigation may require a signed complaint, an anonymous accusation will still alert management to the possibility of a problem. 

•    Meet with the HR manager as a group to truly have an impact. If most people in your department share these concerns, management is more likely to take them seriously.  Collective action also reduces the odds of retaliation. 

•    When presenting the problem, don’t rant and rave about your bigoted boss’s personality.  Instead, provide specific examples showing how her prejudicial behavior is damaging morale and hurting the business. 

•    Discriminatory actions create legal liability for the company, so your HR manager should appreciate the heads-up.  If he refuses to listen, that may be a sign that you need to start looking for a more professional place to work. 

For other clues that a career change might be in order, see Is It Time to Leave Your Job?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mohan M Prasad November 20, 2009 at 2:27 am

The situation as explained by you is quite understandable .

Your HR. seems to have taken a very partisan view of the challenge faced by you and the notice almost borders into being insensitive to a highly sensitive subject .

So as to take care of such issues today most organisations have in their policy books ” the whistle blower policy” which handles such and similar issues in a candid and yet confidential manner . There is anonymity and same time affirmative action.

You need to make a collective representation to the CEO – HR. requesting for introduction this policy .

This is a systemic way of addressing the issue .

Any direct confrontation at this stage will only lead to retaliation and unpleasantness from your manager.

May be you should wait for a specific case of such misconduct ,get bold as a group and take it up with the management .

In such situation notwithstanding the prejudices , the problem posed by you cannot be easily brushed under the carpet .

Yes, there is risk involved in making the noise and the greater risk is to be humbled by a bully and being silent about it .

I empathise with those poor colleagues .

Mohan M Prasad


Barb. November 18, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Going as a group DOES have impact. A group of former co-workers and I were in a similar situation with no way out – no HR department – that was 25 years ago.

I arranged for the entire group to meet with the agency board. Our chain of grievance would’ve been to complain to our boss’s girlfriend (which would’ve led to retaliation), or the next step was the director (the girlfriend’s former lover). So we went directly to the chairman of the board. The boss had already threatened several workers with retaliation if anyone brought up his on the job drug use. He was endangering people’s lives with his behavior, but felt secure that he’d never be found out.

They began an investigation into the issues we were having and discovered a much deeper problem than our boss – embezzlement by the director. The top 4 people ended up being fired in one fell swoop. The director, my boss, his girlfriend, and the bookkeeper, who had been knowingly covering the director’s actions on the books.

Stand strong!


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