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Civility is great—But you don’t have to guarantee it

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It’s a fact of life—not every employee is going to get along with everyone else in your shop. Some managers and supervisors will have more trouble managing a particular employee than others.

The reasons vary—perhaps an employee is thin-skinned and thinks her boss is constantly criticizing her when all that’s being offered is constructive advice. Or maybe that supervisor actually is overly critical.

However, unless the reason for the criticism is the employee’s protected status (e.g., race or age), the employee won’t win a hostile-environment lawsuit if the “hostility” isn’t extremely severe and constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress. That’s the exception rather than the rule.

Recent case: Florence Hervey complained that her supervisor frequently got upset with her. The supervisor often yelled at Hervey for what he perceived as her lack of respect for him. He also gave her low ratings for judgment, teamwork and dependability.

Hervey sued, alleging sex discrimination. But she couldn’t show that her supervisor was treating her with hostility because of her sex. Nor could she point to men who were treated better than she was. The court dismissed her case. (Hervey v. County of Koochiching, No. 06-3891, 8th Cir., 2008)

Final note:
Before you dismiss an employee’s claim that he or she is being bullied, find out whether the supervisor who is supposedly creating the hostile environment is being unreasonable. A true bully may not pose a huge litigation liability, but he will kill morale and probably isn’t helping his staff be as productive as it could be. Consider getting rid of a serial bully if, after talking to employees who haven’t filed complaints, it turns out the supervisor has been giving all employees an unnecessary hard time.

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