Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 30 of 44

Thread: Harassment/Hostile Work Environment? Pennsylvania

  1. #1
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default Harassment/Hostile Work Environment? Pennsylvania

    I have two employees, call them A and B. B is of the opinion that A is not qualified to hold the position that A does and frequently says so both in work meetings (when A is present) and in smaller gatherings (whether A is there or not). Additionally B has said extremely demeaning comments about the quality of A's work and is very dismissive of A's contributions to collaborative endeavors. A is very upset by this treatment and has complained to HR several times. B's defense is that his statements are true and accurate and cannot constitute harassment is he is not slandering A or singling A out for this "abuse" (A's words). B has been counseled not to antagonize B, but B insists that A's work is substandard and harmful to the company and B would be remiss in not pointing it out. A is considering legal action against B and the company for not acting to stop the harassment, most likely on the grounds of B's actions creating a "hostile work environment". A's qualifications have been deemed meeting hiring requirements - a decision B vehemently disagrees with. A and B hold the same rank in the company. B has threatened to counter-sue if any legal action is taken against B. Any suggestions as to the "correct" way to handle this situation?

    --Lex

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    31,876

    Default

    Sorry, this is not an HWE as defined by the law. It is unprofessional, rude, and inappropriate behavior. That's it. If the company won't stand by its instructions to B, there isn't really anything A can do to force them to do so.

    http://www.usbr.gov/cro/pdfsplus/hostilewrkenv.pdf
    I don't respond to Private Messages unless the moderator specifically refers you to me for that purpose. Thank you.

  3. #3
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Pattymd View Post
    Sorry, this is not an HWE as defined by the law. It is unprofessional, rude, and inappropriate behavior. That's it. If the company won't stand by its instructions to B, there isn't really anything A can do to force them to do so.

    http://www.usbr.gov/cro/pdfsplus/hostilewrkenv.pdf
    B has pointed out the CBA specifically does not have a "collegiality" requirement in it and claims that any designation of "unprofessional, rude and inappropriate" is meaningless and has openly decried admonishments as unenforceable under the CBA. B's legal action threat is based on this "unenforceability" - that in essence as much as A (and others) may be annoyed with his criticism, B is cannot be enjoined from speaking that way.

    Part of my question is: how severe/pervasive does speaking one's opinion have to get before it spills past "inappropriate" into legal "harassment"?

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    31,876

    Default

    When it is based on a protected characteristic of the person being spoken about, per the link I provided to you.

    Just because the CBA doesn't address this specifically doesn't mean the company can't shut him up; apparently they have chosen not to.
    I don't respond to Private Messages unless the moderator specifically refers you to me for that purpose. Thank you.

  5. #5
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Pattymd View Post
    When it is based on a protected characteristic of the person being spoken about, per the link I provided to you.

    Just because the CBA doesn't address this specifically doesn't mean the company can't shut him up; apparently they have chosen not to.
    B's criticism is not related to any of the protected characteristics and B has stayed clear of them. The company has tried to silence him, but he has so far not heeded any written warnings, claiming that the company has no legal standing to do so. The CBA has a very narrow list of behaviors/actions/inactions that an employee can be disciplined/terminated for. Being obnoxious in not one of them. A's position is that B's behavior constitutes "legal verbal harassment" and the relevant PA labor law should supersede the CBA. The power to discipline B lies at a level higher than me, but I have to deal with the day-to-day mess in the meanwhile. This may all boil down to a court case since no one is in agreement as to the correct course of action.

  6. #6
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default Retooling of the Question

    What grounds *other* than protected characteristics constitutes non-sexual "verbal harassment"? My sources indicate that there are others, but I cannot find anything that clarifies what they are.

    --Lex

  7. #7
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    37,569

    Default

    If the harassment is not related to a characteristic protected by law, then it is not illegal harassment. This is going to remain the answer no matter how many times you ask the question.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

  8. #8
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by cbg View Post
    If the harassment is not related to a characteristic protected by law, then it is not illegal harassment. This is going to remain the answer no matter how many times you ask the question.
    Thank you for your response. I do not want to seem as asking the same question repeatedly, but I have been told and have read that "verbal abuse in the workplace is illegal," but cannot find anywhere what specific law it violates. You and others concur that this does not rise to the level of harassment owing to protected characteristics. Am I being mislead by this assumption (that it is illegal)? Is it a violation of the OSHA safe working environment ("violence free") General Duties Clause? Is there a PA law that outlaws workplace bullying? It is a sticky issue since the CBA is silent on this.

    Thank you for your help.

  9. #9
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    31,876

    Default

    Generally speaking, "verbal abuse" does not make for a physically unsafe workplace.
    I don't respond to Private Messages unless the moderator specifically refers you to me for that purpose. Thank you.

  10. #10
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    37,569

    Default

    Whoever is making a blanket statement that "verbal abuse in the workplace is illegal" is wrong.

    Which explains why you cannot find what law it violates. It doesn't.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

  11. #11
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Thank you al for taking the time to entertain my questions. Although it may not appear so, your answers have clarified many things.

    According to OSHA, verbal abuse is considered a form of "violence."

    http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_Gene...e-violence.pdf

    Is this just an opinion of the OSH with no legal teeth?

  12. #12
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    37,569

    Default

    That's precisely what it is - an opinion.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

  13. #13
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by cbg View Post
    That's precisely what it is - an opinion.
    Thanks. I believe I have no more questions. This has been a great help - I really appreciate it.

    Take care.

    --Lex

  14. #14
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Posts
    1,685

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Lex View Post
    B's criticism is not related to any of the protected characteristics and B has stayed clear of them. The company has tried to silence him, but he has so far not heeded any written warnings, claiming that the company has no legal standing to do so. The CBA has a very narrow list of behaviors/actions/inactions that an employee can be disciplined/terminated for. Being obnoxious in not one of them. A's position is that B's behavior constitutes "legal verbal harassment" and the relevant PA labor law should supersede the CBA. The power to discipline B lies at a level higher than me, but I have to deal with the day-to-day mess in the meanwhile. This may all boil down to a court case since no one is in agreement as to the correct course of action.
    Is one of the disciplinary actions for insubordination? B has disregarded direct orders from his superior to stop this behavior and has not. That is insubordination.

  15. #15
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    37,569

    Default

    My personal recommendation would be to fire "B" but that's just my opinion.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

  16. #16
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by HRinMA View Post
    Is one of the disciplinary actions for insubordination? B has disregarded direct orders from his superior to stop this behavior and has not. That is insubordination.
    Thank you for your interest in this issue. I will briefly answer your question. B was asked by management by way of written "warning" to "cool it" and refrain from antagonizing A. B pointed out that the CBA has a list of very specific things an employee can be disciplined for and bad behaivor/non-collegiality is not one of them. B very clearly replied to the management's written request that it was non-binding and would ignore it. I'm not sure this rises to insubordination since it may not rise to the level of an enforceable "direct order."

    At the moment it appears that A has no legal recourse and is prevailing on the management's ability to corale B. B is very shrewd though. We'll see.

    --Lex.

  17. #17
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Posts
    1,685

    Default

    Are you their manager? If so I would recommend getting a copy of their contract and reading it through to see if you can find a way to control B.

    I have found using the contract to its full extent to be the best way to handle an employee who quotes it.

    If there truly isn't a way to prevent this via the contract then it should be noted as something to correct in the next contract negotiationas.

  18. #18
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by cbg View Post
    My personal recommendation would be to fire "B" but that's just my opinion.
    For confidentiality I choose not to quote the exact details of the CBA but to paraphrase it states that an employee who has past his or her probationary period can only be disciplined or terminated if he or she is unable or unwilling to fulfill contractual work duties or has committed an illegal act warranting discipline/termination. Behavior has been negatiated in the past but has never been ratified into the CBA.

    The responses I have received here have helped form what I hope to be good (non-legal) advice to both A and B (as they are in my workgroup) and it is up to senior management to pursue disciplinary measures.

    --Lex

  19. #19
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    37,569

    Default

    I had pretty much gathered that termination was not within your control, which is why I didn't mention it till now. But if I were management in your company I'd be ready to do some really hard negotiating next time the contract comes up for renewal; to only be able to terminate under the circumstances you describe puts some pretty difficult limits on the employer sometimes. I'm not an advocate of firing without cause but sometimes an employee's behavior simply warrants it.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

  20. #20
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by HRinMA View Post
    Are you their manager? If so I would recommend getting a copy of their contract and reading it through to see if you can find a way to control B.

    I have found using the contract to its full extent to be the best way to handle an employee who quotes it.

    If there truly isn't a way to prevent this via the contract then it should be noted as something to correct in the next contract negotiationas.
    I am their supervisor (i.e. the guy who gives them work assignments) but disciplinary responsibilities lie with the Division Director (higher then me). I, however, have to deal with the spats and forward complaints up the food chain.

    The big impediment to behavior regulation is "how bad is too bad" issues. It has been negotiated since 1980 or so and never been acceptable to both parties.

    --Lex

  21. #21
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Toronto
    Posts
    814

    Default

    I still don't understand how continuing talk about A after being told in writing to stop talking about A somehow isn't insubordination.

  22. #22
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by eerelations View Post
    I still don't understand how continuing talk about A after being told in writing to stop talking about A somehow isn't insubordination.
    B's position is that the Division Director does not have the authority to say "cool it." According to the CBA, B is correct.

    --Lex

  23. #23
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Toronto
    Posts
    814

    Default

    So who does have the authority to give direct orders to B?

  24. #24
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    live in PA, work in NJ
    Posts
    1,435

    Default

    This is reason #497.3 why unions are harmful to companies and to good employees.

  25. #25
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    37,569

    Default

    The way I'm understanding it, it's not that B is or is not insubordinate. It's that (pick one) either (a) insubordination is not a firing offense under the CBA or (b) the company has chosen to accept B's behavior.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

  26. #26
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by eerelations View Post
    So who does have the authority to give direct orders to B?
    Although my questions have been answered, I will answer any you may have in the extremely off chance it is helpful to someone else.

    The answer to this question is that the Division Director has the authority to hire, discipline and terminate any employee in the division (including B), but the parameters for what constitutes grounds for discipline/termination are narrow.

    As an example, this happened a few years ago in a different division: An employee stated in a public forum that he disagreed with the management style of his supervisor. A comment that garnered a written warning. A few months later, the supervisor was promoted to senior supervisor. This made the critical employee extremely angry (since he felt the supervisor was not worthy of promotion) and stated so rather heatedly in an open letter to the division. The employee was suspended without pay for 3 months. (Personally I think they wanted to fire him, but he would have been very difficult to replace).

    The employee filed a grievance with his union on the grounds that he was disciplined for reasons outside the CBA and won - he was reinstated, his record cleared and awarded back pay. It was a huge hassle for everyone.

    In the end, the employee is still here but the supervisor left a year later after getting the message that he had risen as high as he going to.

    --Lex

  27. #27
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Toronto
    Posts
    814

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Lex View Post
    Although my questions have been answered, I will answer any you may have in the extremely off chance it is helpful to someone else.
    I really don't get your hostility and belittling demeanor here. The only reason I was asking you questions was in an endeavour to somehow help you with your issue. If you had provided all of the required information (such as that very enlightening stuff in your most recent post) rather than letting us beaver away trying to drag it out of you, I/we wouldn't have had to bother you with so many questions.

  28. #28
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    37,569

    Default

    I don't see his answers as being belittling. I just see a poster who is trying to keep his thread on track and doesn't always understand the reason for the questions.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

  29. #29
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Toronto
    Posts
    814

    Default

    He didn't say "I don't understand why you're asking this question" he said (to paraphrase) "I don't want your input or your questions because they certainly aren't helping me and they probably won't help anyone else either."

    Anyway, that's me gone from this thread!

  30. #30
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Posts
    18

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by eerelations View Post
    I really don't get your hostility and belittling demeanor here. The only reason I was asking you questions was in an endeavour to somehow help you with your issue. If you had provided all of the required information (such as that very enlightening stuff in your most recent post) rather than letting us beaver away trying to drag it out of you, I/we wouldn't have had to bother you with so many questions.
    Many apologies, I in no way meant to be belittling. I was concerned that the moderators might think the thread is being prolonged unnecessarily. I appreciate all the feedback I am getting. You are not bothering me with questions

    I made an assumption from the beginning that the CBA was most likely toothless and was looking to see if any relevant labor law could prevail. Aparently the answer is currently "no."

    My dealings with A and B will be more informed now and hopefully I will be able to help them resolve their issue peacably and failing that give cogent information to the Division Director.

    --Lex

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. Hostile work environment Pennsylvania
    By spindal7 in forum Pennsylvania Labor Laws
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 03-08-2010, 10:40 AM
  2. Hostile work environment/sexual harassment California
    By jbash in forum Sexual Harassment Laws
    Replies: 9
    Last Post: 01-21-2007, 04:13 PM
  3. Replies: 3
    Last Post: 12-01-2006, 10:21 AM
  4. Harassment/discrimination/hostile work environment
    By govemp in forum legal discussion
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 07-13-2005, 10:51 PM
  5. Hostile Work Environment? Harassment? Discrimination?
    By hkalsam in forum Discrimination Laws
    Replies: 3
    Last Post: 01-03-2005, 08:15 AM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •