“I’ve been retaliated against – not by my boss – but by my co-workers, for doing the right thing. Is there any best way to deal with this?”

Question: For ten years I’ve worked on the same job. About two years ago I witnessed what I believe to be my colleagues involved in a dishonest scheme. Sure enough, the matter was investigated, and two of my colleagues were fired as a result.

To my amazement, shortly after that I was “written up” by my supervisor when two of my co-workers complained that I had done something that – believe me – I just did not do. One of my colleagues harassed me so often and so openly that HR finally moved the location of my office to another building. One of my other colleagues even put on our sign-in sheets that I was chronically late, when the truth is I was on time each day.

I’m really feeling emotionally drained by the daily need to protect myself in this way. Any suggestions?

Dale City, Virgina

Answer: There’s no doubt in my mind that you are experiencing what some people may do to others when they feel their friends have been “turned in” for wrongdoing by others. It’s a kind of retaliation, not by your boss, but by your co-workers. What they are doing is wrong, mean, and probably against company policy, at the least.

While I know of no “law” that protects you from this kind of treatment by co-workers, I still do believe you may have a remedy of sorts. That’s because your employer has an obligation to protect you from such behavior; that is, your company’s Human Resources may not be protecting you as much as they should by disciplining those who they have reason to believe are doing this to you. HR’s failure to protect you, failure to enforce company policies, and failure to appropriately discipline those who are hurting you, may be a kind of retaliation, of its own kind. That is, by not taking those steps necessary to put a halt to your mistreatment, they could be viewed as retaliating against you, themselves.

I suggest you calmly but resolutely insist that the CEO and HR look into this, and see to it that it is stopped. Do so in a written memo or letter, sent by email, that is both specific and respectful. Mention to them that you believe they are obligated by the law, company policies and plain simple morality to end this sort of treatment, once and for all.

Frankly, I understand that this may not work promptly, or completely. It is very hard to get people to act responsibly. Still, it is the best alternative available to you. I think you might, at the same time, start looking elsewhere for a new job.

People report to me that once they take action, almost any action, their feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and humiliation abate, if not end. I hope (and expect) you will find that to be true, as well.

Best, Al Sklover

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.