Co-worker abuse

Q: My question is how does one handle seeing constant abuse of a fellow co-worker by her supervisor. The managers just turn a cheek and it is out of control. Don’t say I should ignore it, because that is not an option. There are union reps here who are aware of the situation and do nothing. This is going to have a detrimental effect on this woman who is being abused and on the workplace environment.

A: This situation seems very upseting. Unfortunately, an employee can feel trapped in an abusive situation like this, especially in a difficult economy. I commend you for asking the question on behalf of your co-worker. I would never suggest that you ignore it, especially if it is abusive. I agree with you that often fellow colleagues are negatively affected by seeing someone mistreated in the workplace. Some questions and suggestions:

1. Has a complaint ever been filed? I understand that your union reps are aware of the situation. I would suggest filing a formal written complaint with the union and perhaps also cross-filing it with your employer and/or Human Resources Department as well.
2. Does your employer have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? Often an EAP can assist an employee (and you) with navigating stressful and abusive situations.
3. Does your employer have a harassment policy? Most companies have such a policy. I don’t have a lot of detailed information about what is occurring in your workplace, but it sounds like this may be worth exploring.
4. More and more companies have workplace violence policies that cover a wide range of abuse, harassment and other type of threatening behaviors. Does your employer have one? Does the policy provide you with recommended steps if you should observe certain abuse behaviors?
5. If internal processes don’t improve your work environment, you or your colleague could contact an external resource. An attorney is one option. Mass Legal Help ( is a resource that assists low-income persons with finding appropriate legal resources.
I would review any published policies or handbooks that might be available to you. I applaud you for not passively accepting this behavior. We all deserve the right to work in an environment where we feel safe.

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