A hostile workplace grievance should specifically cite the types of hostile conduct you witnessed, as well as the severity and frequency of the actions. The document should inform your supervisor that the problem has an impact on your job. If your company has a grievance process, follow it carefully. Respect filing deadlines, which may be as short as 30 days, and don't try to hasten the results by skipping steps, such as a possible requirement to lodge the complaint with an immediate supervisor first.
Address your grievance to your supervisor so it's clear who you reported the problem to. This will be important if you have to move higher up the chain-of-command. Make it factual, not emotional. Include the full names of all perpetrators -- don't use obscure references, such as John Doe or “an individual in the sales department,” and don't submit the grievance anonymously; say who you are.
What's Going On
Outline conduct that's creating the hostile work environment. If you can't list every act, note all the forms of harassment you've witnessed. Provide specific examples for each, and specify when conduct is physical or physically threatening. If you're excluded from activities or opportunities, list them; if offensive cartoons, messages or other media is being distributed, provide quotes or descriptions. Your grievance needs to communicate the severity of the problem.
Specifics About Timing
Note how long you've experienced the problem and how frequently it occurs, and provide specific dates when listing examples of inappropriate conduct.
For example: “Over the past three months, Joe Smith has created a hostile work environment. His harassing behaviors include making sexually explicit jokes on a daily basis in the employee lounge. In an instance on March 1, Joe, said... .”
Include the names of witnesses by adding, "Joe posted a racist poster on the bulletin board in the presence of Jack Doe and Jane Doe.”
Directing Attention to Policies
Refer to references in your company's handbook or harassment policy and to federal laws, such as the Civil Rights Act, to support your claims. For example, you could write, “as noted in section 3.3 of this company's harassment policy," or "according the Americans with Disabilities Act... ." If you're alleging that the hostility is based on discriminatory factors, such race, religion or disability, cite the illegal factors driving the problem.
Outline how the hostile work environment affects your productivity and ability to succeed. Provide examples such as assignments you couldn't complete or completed late, interference with promotions, commissions and bonuses, and unfair disciplinary action.
Your Proposed Resolution
Tell your supervisor how you want the problem resolved by including statements such as, “I want the conduct to cease immediately” or, “I ask that disciplinary action be taken in compliance with this company's code of conduct.” Also state whether you're taking legal action, such as filing a claim with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
- American Bar Association: Eleventh Circuit Recognizes Retaliatory Hostile Work Environment Claim
- Municipal Employees Federation: Discipline and Workplace Rights
- SniderLaw.com: Sample Complaint Letter
- U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management: Hostile Work Environment
- Appalachian State University: Policy Manual
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Harassment
- Photo Credit Todd Wright/Blend Images/Getty Images
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