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RobertJDFL, Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
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-- RE: Bullying, harrassment in the workplace. My businesss

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RE: Bullying, harrassment in the workplace.

My businesss recently failed. I took $9 an hour as a security officer. (subsidized by social security).

In one month, I have been bullied and/or harrassed 3 times. I have tried to swallow my pride, but twice I returned unreasonable hostility with measured hostility as I was pushed "over the line". Because the situations didn't seem to be resolvable at the moment of confrontation, I responded by asking those involved to speak to the dept manager if they were having a problem with my work.

1. The first incident was when a crew leader yelled at me for reminding her that I needed time sheets. She also yelled at me me for calling them time sheets when their correct name was officer reports. You can't imagine how "over the top" her response was.

I reported the incident to the dept manager and she was understanding and said she would have a talk with the individual. Since then she has been very cordial and helpful.

2. The second incident was with another crew leader who kept criticizing me for handling some paperwork incorrectly over and over and over again. It seemed like unnecessary harassment and she pushed me "over the line" so the only way I could see out was to bring it up to my supervisor. She has been very pushy and curt about other things also. I personally believe she has serious psychological problems but I thought it would look bad if I brought this up to the dept manager under the circumstances.

3. The 3rd incident involved another officer who relieves me. He clocked me out and told me he wanted to talk to me about my "accounting". I didn't handle this as well as I should have and responded with "bulls..t" as I knew there wasn't much I could have done wrong and I didn't feel it was his place to clock me out and review my work. It turned out to be about the same paperwork mistake that my crew leader had already gone over with me numerous times.

His response was shouted without exaggeration at the top of his lungs. I was in total shock and as I could see there was no reasoning with him I referred him to the department manager. He has been there a long time and I think it was about asserting his seniority. My personal opinion is that he has some serious ego issues.

I had a meeting with my dept manager the next day. She was very upset at first as she had only heard one side of the stories.
As we talked, I believe she came to understand that I was being truthful and besides some reasonable recommendations she is going to try to avoid contact between the belligerent officer and myself. I have to say my impression she is a wonderful person and manager and I feel lucky to be working for her.

It seems that in the short term things are fine. To be honest, if I could afford to I would quit and I might if things don't improve and I can afford to be temporarily without income. I have to be realistic that history could easily repeat itself.

My concerns are:
1. If further problems come up he leads to a "he said -she said" situation and I may be defenseless. I have thought that I should have either an overt or covert recording device available if that is legal. Even if it is not to be be used in a courtroom situation it might be a tool for demonstrating to the dept manager the severity of the abuse.
2. It could get to a point where I have no choice but to quit as I can only take so much psychologically. I understand if there is harrasment involved I could be eligible for unemployment.

I of course have documented as much as I can in written notes but of course its just my word against another.

I would appreciate any suggestions on how to handle this situation.
Thank you for your question.

Iowa is a "one party consent" state when it comes to recording a conversation. In other words, so long as one person to the conversation consents to the recording (you), you may record it legally.

The harassment is a bit more tricky. Legally speaking, harassment must be based on an unlawful factor -such as a person's race, religion. age, sex, disability or national origin. As the Supreme Court once noted, the law is not a civility code - so even though you work with some very unpleasant people, and I am not minimizing your experiences in any way - if you were to quit, it could be seen as you voluntarily leaving the job. In order to get unemployment, you would have to argue that you were constructively discharged -that you suffered such unfair treatment and harassment and despite your best efforts to resolve the matter, you were left with no choice but to quit.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank you for quick and very helpful response - especially on the recording issue.


One more question on this issue.


What if they were to fire me over these issues? I am concerned that the two latter people mentioned might like to see me fired and may use unfair or inaccurate information against me.


Any suggestions?

Could I use the recordings in an unemployment hearing to demonstrate that I was treated unfairly.?


Do you have any good links that might help me familiarize myself with my rights if this situation should occur?

Thank you for your reply.

Iowa is an "at will" employment state. That means that unless an employee has an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement, which generally gives them more rights, an employee may be terminated at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all (an employee doesn't even have to be given a reason), so long as the termination was not done for an unlawful reason -again, something like age, sex, disability, religion, etc.

So, technically, an employer could say that an employee was terminated because they could not get along with other employees, for example. But, that wouldn't necessarily disqualify you from receiving unemployment if you were otherwise eligible.

The general rule is that an individual is disqualified for unemployment insurance benefits if discharged for misconduct in connection with the individual's employment. See Iowa Code Section 96.5-2-a.

In general, misconduct is found in deliberate acts or omissions, which constitute a material breach of the worker's duty to the employer or in repeated acts of carelessness or negligence. Poor performance due to inability is not considered misconduct. See 871 IAC 24.32(1).

The burden of proof on demonstrating misconduct would be on the employer. Examples of misconduct can include being insubordinate, fighting (physical altercations), and excessive absenteeism. In order to justify disqualification, the evidence must establish that the final incident leading to the decision to discharge was a current act of misconduct. See 871 IAC 24.32(8). See also Greene v. EAB, 426 N.W.2d 659 (Iowa App. 1988).

In other words, discharging you because you and your co-workers didn't work well together isn't by itself misconduct and should not disqualify you.

If a hearing were required, yes, generally recordings can be used at the hearing, though every agency has different rules about providing such evidence so you would have to check (if it came to that) what those rules are. For example, a copy of the recording would normally have to be provided to the employer in advance of the hearing -some states require this 24 hours in advance, some 48 hours, etc.
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