Dear Amy: I work in a toxic environment, and my boss hates me. He talks about how he wanted someone else in my position and is upset that he didn't get to pick the person he wanted for the job. He goes out of his way to correct me when I speak, interrupts me and screams at me in front of my co-workers. He goes for days at a time without speaking to me. My boss walks in and greets everyone except me, and leaves without saying good night.
He never tells me when he is going to be out of the office. I am his assistant and have to handle his work when he is out. If I check to see if he is coming in, I am being "nosy," and my co-workers become secretive around me. He makes passive-aggressive comments within earshot and makes fun of me.
My co-workers and other managers join in and have started to also ignore me and become obnoxious, like screaming while I am trying to work, interrupting me or whispering while I am around. Some of them flat-out stop their conversations when I pass them or laugh when I walk by.
The only feedback I get is from a co-worker who made a comment about how a person has to "have a sense of humor" in this environment.
It's a really horrible environment, a good ol' boys club, so the higher-ups don't care, and HR is nonexistent.
Is there any way to resolve this, or should I just leave?
— Worried Worker
Dear Worried: What you have described is the essence of a hostile work environment.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the treatment you describe is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The law also protects you from retaliation if you complain about discrimination or participate in an EEOC proceeding (for example, a discrimination investigation or lawsuit).
You can research your rights on the EEOC website (eeoc.gov) to see if you want to try to take action against your employer. At the same time, you should undertake a job search. I hope you find a different job in a more welcoming environment.
Dear Amy: I just got out of the hospital after having my second total knee replacement. I work at the hospital where I had my surgery, but my surgery was in a separate building, which is across a skybridge.
Amy, not a single one of my co-workers walked over that skybridge to say hi and brighten my day during my time in the hospital.
I believe I am well liked. After both surgeries, a friend who is a nurse and works in close association with us came over and brought me a latte, which was very sweet of her.
During my first surgery, a man who works in the same general area as I do popped over to say hi. The visits didn't take even five minutes but meant so much!
This time, my co-workers asked me to text them after I was out of surgery to tell them everything went fine. Some responded. I was there for the better part of three days.
Is texting the new "hospital visit"? I hope I do better when my co-workers are hospitalized.
— Forgotten on the Fourth floor
Dear Forgotten: According to you, one person was kind enough to pay you a sick call after both surgeries. Good for her!
You are so right when you say that small gestures mean so much when you're confined in the hospital. I first realized the power of a hospital pop-in when my mother was ill. Now, I do my best to pay a quick visit when people I know are hospitalized.
It is surprising that your colleagues, who work in health care, were not more actively compassionate toward you. The only thing you might have done differently would be to ask via text: "If you are able to swing by for a quick hello today, I'd love it."
Let this episode provide insight, not about them, but about how you will behave toward others who are ill in the future.
Chicago friends and fans: I will be appearing with legendary newsman Bill Kurtis at the Victory Gardens Theater on April 30 at 7 p.m., in partnership with WBEZ. Join us for a fun, lively onstage conversation. Ticket information can be found at www.wbez.org.
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