Dear Bonnie is our truth-telling advice column from Bonnie Siegler. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and invite our readers to submit their questions directly to: DearBonnie@designobserver.comDear Bonnie,One of my co-workers is a bully. She controls the office through gossip, manipulation, ridicule, intimidation, even blackmail. The bosses know what she does but don't seem to care. I think they're a little afraid of her, and she has access to a lot of personal information about them so I have to wonder if they can't fire or discipline her without risking exposure of whatever personal skeletons she's found. I think my only way out of this situation is to look for a different job, except with the economy the way it is, it's not likely I'll find something anywhere as good. Besides, I don't want to go, I want her to go. I already tried looking for better jobs for her, elsewhere, but again, it's a buyer's market. And plus, I can't vouch for her without destroying my reputation with whomever I recommend her to. We both appear to be stuck here, and she's making this place miserable. What can I do? I reiterate that the authority figures will be of no help. And "talking to her" won't do any good, either. She has no interest in a calmer, happier work environment. She lives to create drama.Sincerely,Bullied in Brighton
Sadly, you are working in what is called a hostile work environment and you have two choices. The bad news is both may lead to the end of your job. The first, and best, option might just be to quit. Your bosses sound almost as awful as the bully. They are more interested in protecting themselves than their employees. The boss is the parental figure in a work environment and it is part of their job to keep you happy and safe.
If you really, really want to stay though, your second option is to start documenting every instance of bullying, whether it happens to you or someone else. Note every comment, every slight and every manipulation. Email each story to yourself so there is a time and date stamp on all of them. The examples need to add up to a work environment that is “intimidating, hostile or offensive to reasonable people.” Once you have a comprehensive representation, share them with your employers and see if that will force them to take action. If they are so cowardly that they instead choose to keep a toxic employee, you MUST quit. Then, share the documentation with your state's unemployment office. You may be able to collect unemployment benefits if the hostile environment could have been corrected by your employer, which seems to be the case here, but you need to have the proper evidence.
Also, please don’t look for a job for the bully anymore and do not recommend her under any circumstances.
You say you're afraid you won’t find a job anywhere as good but I have to tell you that where you are is no good. There are places to work where your boss will look out for you and hire good people who don’t abuse each other. You are endangering your emotional wellbeing. Just imagine how much better YOUR work will be when you work in a healthy, supportive environment.
Finally, even if your bosses or your state's unemployment office won't help you, you have to help yourself and just move on.