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RobertJDFL
RobertJDFL, Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
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My friend works in a small (30 person) NYC office, where she

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My friend (in her early 50s) works in a small (30 person) NYC office, where she is being bullied by her immediate boss who also happens to be the office manager and HR manager. Isn't this a conflict of interest? (the parent company is a larger company from Georgia). Is it legal to have one person have so much power? What can my friend do? She had excellent relationship & reviews from bully until she "complained' about her workload since a coworker left a month ago.

Thank you for your question.

It is not against the law for a company to make a person both the office manager and HR person. It may be potentially a conflict of interest in the sense that one set of duties could conflict with the other set of duties but there isn't any law that prohibits a company from appointing a person to both positions.

Now, when you say bullying, is this something that your friend believes may be based on something such as her race, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin? This is important, because the law affords no protection for "bullying", per se. As the Supreme Court once noted, the law is not a civility code. Nothing says an employer has to be nice, polite, friendly, outgoing, etc. In fact, yelling, screaming, swearing at employees, while certainly unprofessional, are not necessarily illegal.

That said, an employer may not discriminate against an employee on the basis of things such as their sex, religion, age (40+) a disability, race, or national origin. They also cannot discriminate against an employee for public policy reasons - e.g., an employee cannot be demoted or fired because they served jury duty or exercised their right to vote, or because they refused to engage in unlawful activity when asked by an employer.

Has your friend attempted to contact someone in the parent company to discuss her concerns and what is going on? If this is a matter of discrimination, and attempts have been made to resolve the matter with the employer without success, I would encourage her to consider filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC (www.eeoc.gov). They will invesigate and decide what action if any, to take. If they decline to proceed with the matter, they will issue a "right to sue" letter to your friend -after which she will have 90 days from the date of the letter to bring suit in court if she so chooses. Note that this is not a quick process - an EEOC claim can take months to hear back on simply because of the volume of claims being received.

If this is not a case of discrimination or a violation of public policy, then unfortunately, it isn't a legal matter but an internal matter that would have to be resolved by going through her employer. There again, I would say she would need to contact someone in the parent company and address the matter that way.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.


Thank you for your response. I made my friend aware of your response and she has another question. In your description of discrimination, does a 'disability' have to be obvious? For example, a stutterer, or a person in a wheelchair? Or can a disability be something the employer doesn't know because it is not readily evident or diagnosed (ex: previous anxiety attacks, or someone who is a very highly functional person with autism)?


 


Although my friend has only been at this job for a year (the bully boss is there three years), she knows she is being bullied/retaliated against because she dared 'complain' to boss about her workload for the past month since her coworker left. The plan was always that a replacement would be found internally or hired, but nothing has been done. In a private conversation with bully boss last week, boss admitted that my friend was seen as a perfect 'Stepford Employee', but that she 'changed' when the coworker left.


 


She believes she is being bullied because boss has been placing unreasonable expectations on her, where failure to meet those expectations means making life unpleasant (or dismissing) her because she spoke up for herself. The boss has emailed her and said she better see gross improvement or else. So for a month now, my friend has had trouble sleeping, digestive problems, etc because of toxic environment. It's ironic that bully boss wrote the company handbook which was just distributed 3 months ago, which clearly states that "any employee who believes s/he is being harassed by anyone in the company, or believes his/her employment is being adversely affected by such conduct, should immediately report their concerns to HR. No adverse employment action will be taken against any employee based on that employee's filing of a harrasment complaint in good faith. There will be no discrimination or recrimination against any employee because s/he in good faith presents a concern, problem, or opportunity. All employees have an obligation to stop discrimination and all forms of harrasment from occurring and must report conduct which they observe that violates this policy."


 


My friend has not attempted to contact anyone in the parent company yet. The chain of command outlined in handbook leaves only the president of the company (who is in Georgia) because all other options involves the bully boss herself.

Thank you for your reply.

It doesn't necessarily have to be obvious, but a person claiming they were discriminated against due to a disability would have to be able to prove that the employer at least believed them to have a disability (or a history of a past physical or mental impairment, such as person who is recovering from cancer, and then is singled out because of their illness).

Perhaps I am missing something, but from the facts you are providing, this does not seem like a case of discrimination due to disability. This seems like your friend got a lot of work dumped on her when a co-worker left (not unlawful) and when she complained, the boss decided to make her work life even more miserable.

However, calling her a Stepford employee, telling her she needs to see gross improvement "or else" etc. does not meet the legal definition of discrimination. It may very well violate company policy regarding harassment, but her remedy then would be through the company itself.

Is the only person above your friend's boss the company president themself? If not, I find it ridiculous that a company would expect that employees could easily approach the president of the company (who I am sure is quite busy running the company) with HR issues. If there are people above your friend's boss aside from the president, I would suggest your friend complain to them and if necessary, take it up the chain of command.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.


Thank you for explanation re disability. No, this doesn't meet criteria for unlawful harrasment, but my friend is having a very hard time working with/for her boss now.


 


The chain of command is 1) tell your immediate supervisor. 2) If situation is not resolved, see your manager's supervisor. -Boss doesn't have one because post of Exec VP/General Manager is open TBD. 3) If still not satisfied, go to HR. 4) If after a thorough review of the matter, you still feel your concerns have not been resolved, you may go to the president.

Ah, I see. Well, then given that her boss is the HR department, as you mentioned, and there is no one else to go to, then per company policy, she needs to direct her complaint of harassment in the workplace to the company president.
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