Hostile work environments: Run, don’t walk to HR or the CEO

Question: The CFO in our company is constantly telling me and the other women in the office to treat like he is treated at home.

I find this appalling. He is so disrespectful to us and to his family. Some of the women laugh it off when he says it to them but complain about it after he leaves the room. Other people find any excuse to leave the area when they hear his voice coming down the hallway.

The way I deal with it is to ignore him but he keeps doing it. No one has the guts to tell him how they feel about his macho attitude because he might fire us or make life more difficult than it already is in the office.

What do you do in this situation?

Fed up in Alabama

Answer: Run, don’t walk to your Human Resources person or CEO of the company. It is time to discuss what is being said and how it is affecting the employees in the office.

Be factual. Give specific examples of what is being said, how it is said and when it said.

For example, does the CFO make the same comment or different comments when they are meetings, in the hallway, in the coffee room or privately with someone in their office? Are the comments the same to men and women alike? Are different things said to different people? Has anyone asked the CFO to stop? What was their response?

The situation you are describing may in fact be a hostile work environment. It is essential that someone in Human Resources, the CEO or an outside consultant assist in the investigation of it. This kind of behavior will continue to have a negative effect on the mental health of the employees and productivity….and it is against the law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protection from sexual harassment. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),sexual harassment does not have to be explicit and may affect the culture of the organization:

“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

It is often recommended that when unwelcome comments are made it is best to nip it in the bud by asking them to stop. That might be easier to do the first time you hear the comment and if ignored becomes an elephant at work.

When the person saying those comments is your boss or someone in a position of power, it becomes more difficult to confront them for fear of reprisal.

The best way companies can manage these situations is by having a process in place that allows employees to voice their concerns and have management step in quickly. Prevention is the optimal solution.

If it is determined that the person is creating a hostile work environment, the company will take action by either firing the employee or documenting the corrective action taken in their file.

If the employee stays, the company may ask them to apologize to the affected employees for their actions. I strongly recommend this be done in the presence of a Human Resources representative or other third party.

You may have a fear that reporting the CFO will target you. Believe me, the CEO and Human Resources want to know if this happening so they can deal with it. Good luck.

  1. I will add that you can also report this even if you are not the subject of the harassment, and even if you are not an employee. You can report this to HR and/or the CEO, or if you are worried that might not work you can report it to the state and federal authorities (sorry I do not have links for these available at this time).
    I was working as a staffing consultant, and I have had plenty of education in this area, and there was still one time when I failed to report something that was told to me on site at one of my clients. Awareness is important, these things can catch anyone by surprise.

  2. Your suggestion is the way it is suppose to work but is very naive. HR and the CEO are there to protect the company. The person complaining and the offending party will possible be fired. This has happened to several people I know as well as myself.

    • MLC – It is rare that I am called naive! It is unfortunate that you or someone else has been the victim of an ill run company and HR organization. If the company does not want to concern themselves with the culture of the organization, then you have to ask why be there? The CEO will get it when people do not want to work for them because there is fear and intimidation in the workplace.

      The other consideration is how the employee approaches the situation with the company. If there are threats and demands being made things can turn ugly quickly because everyone is on the defensive. In high emotion situations, getting to a win-win takes a bit of finesse.