Bad Work Environment

Archived Responses: 

Hostile Co-Worker

Feb 2002

I am a UC employee, and I am being targeted by a co-worker at my workplace. We have worked together for several years, and she has always been hostile to me. Occasionally she shows similar hostility to other employees, but most of it has been directed at me. Until recently, she has just been rude and unprofessional, but lately she has been making unfounded charges that potentially threaten my professional standing. Initially, our supervisor was sympathetic to me, agreeing that this employee was out of line, but now he is not being supportive. I have asked for help from his supervisor, who has also not been supportive. I have documented all this. I have asked my supervisor to avoid assigning us projects together, and he has ignored my request. Recently, he has begun pressuring me to do some additional projects together. Do I have any recourse? Anonymous, please

Since you are a UCB employee, you should take advantage of the UCB Staff Ombuds Office, which specializes in just the kind of problem you are having. My friend Margo Wesley has been at the Ombuds office for a while now, and she is a very smart, calm, and sensible person who would be the perfect person to consult with about a difficult work situation, and she is also extremely knowledgable about campus personnel policies. Did I mention she is nice too? I think you should make an appointment right away. Here's their web page: It says ''A confidential, informal, impartial, neutral and non-adversarial alternative for the resolution of work-related problems and concerns''. Their phone number is 642-7823 Good luck! Ginger
You didn't say what part of UC you work for, but UC Berkeley has a Staff Ombuds Office for issues like this. Their website is anonymous
If you have any form of Human Resources, you should start there. You have already started up the chain of command and seem to be getting nowhere. A hostile work environment is not something to be taken lightly. If your employers refuse to do anything about it, they can be held liable financially. Accommodations should be made for employees who are incompatible with others. Keep climbing up the chain of command. Sooner or later someone is going to have to deal with the issue or deal with the consequences. No one likes to sue their employer over these things, but sometimes it can't be avoided. Just make sure your documentation can stand on its own and you yourself are not doing anything to add to the situation. You don't want this turned back around on you. You didn't mention if you and your co-worker had similar seniority. That issue could come up as well. Good luck. It sounds like you are going to need it. marianne
Go immediately to the Staff Ombuds office on campus. It is great that you have documented the history of hostile behavior. The Staff Ombudsperson can do a few things for you: 1) listen objectively and give advice; 2) advise you of your rights and any possible action that you can take; and 3) offer to participate in mediation sessions to help calm the situation. The office is in its own little building on Bowditch Street, and your meeting is completely confidential. I went myself when, on maternity leave, I received a nasty and punitive performance evaluation from my supervisor without warning or discussion. Ultimately, I left that job, but the Ombuds office staff (I spoke with Margo Westley) were straightforward, incisive, but compassionate. Good luck. Anonymous
Well, my approach wouldn't work for most people. I'd ask you both to sit in a room and tell each other straight to your faces all the things you hate most about one another (with precise examples)and then you'd also have to come up with things that seem actually alright about the other person. At least you'd have something to go by, no matter how emotional. Since most people are obviously uncomfortable with this approach and you both would be too (it takes suppression of feelings to develop hostility), I'd recommend meeting with your Human Resources Director for your unit. Next step after that, based on your classification, would be your union representative or the Ombuds Office on campus. Be sure, before you enter in any of these conversations, that you know what your goals are and if they are realistic. Want peace with the co-worker, want to be separated from the co-worker? Whatever it is you want will probably require some adjustment on your part as well. Visualize the desired outcome and adjust your attitude and behavior accordingly. Anonymous
Your post could have easily been mine one year ago! Please run, do not walk, to the Staff Ombuds Office. The amazingly professional staff there are wonderful at helping you and your coworker work out problems of this kind. Their description is: ''A confidential, informal, impartial, neutral and non-adversarial alternative for the resolution of work-related problems and concerns''. Mediation is a tremendously valuable experience to undertake; I learned a lot by going through it. Their number is 642-7823, and their web page is at I would also recommend talking to someone at CARE Services for Faculty and Staff, a program that offers free confidential counseling, consultation, and referral for UC Berkeley faculty and staff, at 643-7754. The pain that a hostile work environment can inflict on the rest of your life can be immense. Having someone to talk to is extremely helpful.

We at UC Berkeley are blessed to have such free resources so easily available. However, mediation is an alternative that everyone should consider in such a situation. After having complained for months about my work problems to so many people, I was surprised that no one suggested mediation; once someone did, it made so much sense. More people need to know about how helpful professional mediation can be! Good luck to you, Anonymous

Try the Staff Ombuds Office - I saw Margo Wesley speaking recently & was very impressed with her. Good luck! Anonymous

I'd like to add one more perspective on this, having dealt with a related situation. I work in a large organization-we don't have an Ombud Office, which sounds like an excellent resource. We do have some un-obvious resources for things like this. In my situation, I demanded that some very obvious and inappropriate hostile behavior stop, and I spoke to my superiors about it. Unfortunately, my superiors are a little more conflict-averse than I anticipated, and a little more clueless than I could have imagined, and the result was very negative for me in the short term. Although I persisted, since I knew clearly that what I was saying was correct, and in the long term some improvements were made to the organization, I ended up being the sacrificial lamb, so to speak. We improved the situation for the better, but I ended up with the label of ''troublemaker.'' I don't believe that any Ombud office, or the equivalent in our office, can avoid that, because it was my superiors who have that perception. And there were implications for my position, which I am hopefully overcoming now. If I had it to do over again, I would approach it as a ''here's a positive idea for improving our overall effectiveness'' type thing, with a smile on my face. That way, I wouldn't have to suffer the consequences of someone else's bad behavior. I considered the legal remedies (lawsuits, unions), but unfortunately, most hostile situations are more subtle than can be proven effectively, and the other person is generally ''innocent till proven guilty.'' Which leaves the possibility that you will be permanently labeled a troublemaker, even if you win, PLUS you have to go through the headache of inflaming all that conflict. Remember that the main point is to come up with a solution that works for you, and doesn't cause you more damage. In my case, the hostile employee has considerably more power and influence than me (and this often seems to be the case in these situations, as sometimes those people are conciously or unconciously trying to prove you unworthy so they can get ahead). Even if that person is repeating this hostile behavior in a widespread way, sometimes the people who have the power to change it just don't get it, and you can't change it. (and despite all the facts, you can still look like a whiner, while the other person looks like a winner, particularly if they've got the advantage, and the hostilities are not obvious to other people, or not experienced by those who have the power to stop it). So my advice is to consider the ramifications of your actions for yourself, and find a solution that sounds like it will work for everybody. Don't tolerate hostile behavior, but work toward the solution. And if it becomes apparent that you can't change the organization, then make plans to move on to a healthier environment. Even making the short-term plans for a solution will help you feel like you are taking care of yourself. anonymous
To the employee seeking help. If you are in a group covered by a union contract, contact your union. If you are not sure about your status go to which has links to all the campus unions. If you are not represented get in touch with the staff ombudsperson. Good luck. margy