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Dear Robin: How Do I Deal With My Difficult Co-Worker?

Monday, December 01, 2014


Photo Credit: iStock

Dear Robin, 

I have been working at the same company for about 5 years, and up until 8 months ago when my married male boss hired “Michele” I loved my job. The new woman is very attractive which I think is why he hired her, because she doesn’t seem to have any idea what she is doing. Also, they go out to lunch all the time and several people have seen them together in odd places at odd times so I think something may be going on there but that’s not my business.

My problem is that she is constantly undermining me and doing things behind my back to make me look bad. I outrank her, so maybe she is trying to get me fired so she can get promoted. She took credit for my work when I was on vacation, she organizes meetings that pertain to my job but doesn’t include me, she bad-mouths me to other people in the department, I could go on and on.

It’s not just me – she also goes after other women and a great employee recently quit because she couldn’t deal with this woman any more.  She does not do this type of crap to men in the company, only women.

I’m starting to hate going to work. I tried to talk to her about this twice but she played dumb and said it was all in my head.  What do I do about this situation? It’s driving me crazy. My husband says I should just quit but this woman is the only problem I have at work, so I don’t want to. Help!


Peeved in Portland

Dear Peeved,

One wonderful upside to the women’s movement is that a path was cleared for us lady types to join the workforce, compete equally with men and excel in our chosen careers.

The downside to women in the workplace, of course, is women in the workplace, or more specifically, women like Michele.

The type of woman you described has never lost her high-school/sorority conniving mean girl mentality and has now sharpened her backstabbing underhanded skills to use at work.

You seem to think your boss (let’s call him “Chris”) is screwing the new talent. I have a couple thoughts on this:

1. Don’t jump to conclusions and don’t gossip about this at work. That makes you just as bad as Michele;


2. If you are correct, this affair is absolutely your business because unless you work for Larry Flynt it is almost certainly against company policy.  When us gals who don’t let the boss put his inkjet cartridge in our printer have to work and compete side-by-side with those who do, we are forced to operate within a hostile work environment on a very lopsided playing field.

Most organizations have strict rules against screwing the boss so take a look at your employee handbook and see what it says.  Please note: I am NOT giving you legal advice, even though I use fancy legal phrases like “hostile work environment” and “screwing the boss.”

If Chris is indeed enjoying time horizontally with Michele this impacts you in a few ways. First, he may very well give her promotions and raises that you deserve but won’t get because his hot dog isn’t in your bun over the lunch hour.

Second, if this affair goes sideways (and they always do), your workplace is now Drama Central, which can greatly impact your productivity and longevity at the company.

Third, an environment in which bosses sleep with subordinates is a poisonous one, and I can’t imagine that you are the only one who suspects this affair. If others know and are doing nothing, especially his superiors, you work for an unhealthy organization with a broken moral compass.

Now, what to do about Michele? Having worked with this type several times over the past, I can tell you that you are fighting an uphill battle but not an impossible one. Here we go!

1. Document, document, document.

You need to start playing an expert game of Cover Your Ass via the written word.  I would avoid having too many in-person conversations with this woman unless others are present (and then, you should take very careful notes). Engaging with her via emails and memos will enable you to capture exactly what was discussed without having to worry about her twisting your words to others.

Document when she undermines you and excludes you from meetings and other discussions that affect your job.  Since you have tried addressing her directly to no avail, it is time to share your concerns with Chris and your Human Resources Department so your complaints should be verifiable through documentation.

Engage in the same documentation work regarding your boss, because if Chris is putting special reports in Michele’s filing cabinet he may very well be planning to get rid of you to promote his paramour. I emailed you last week and you told me you are very good at your job and have consistently received glowing reviews, but in the past few months Chris has been nit-picking your work and acting much less friendly than usual.

That’s a giant red flag.  If I take you at your word and assume your performance is stellar, I suspect you may have a real problem on your hands so be prepared to substantiate your belief that you are a good employee caught in a very difficult situation not of your own making.

2. Be a sneaky tattletale.

If you truly think Michele and Chris are sleeping together, report your suspicions and any proof you may have anonymously to your HR department. They will conduct an investigation and hopefully put a stop to it in one way or another.

I say “hopefully” because I have seen situations in the past where the company gleefully ignored the naughty behavior.  Anyone who worked at Louisiana-Pacific in the 80s and 90s can attest to this type of environment.

3.If nothing changes, look for another job.

I don’t want to sound discouraging, but your efforts to make your work environment better could fail spectacularly.  If after engaging in Steps #1 and #2 above nothing improves, find another company where you can do what you do without all this dramatic BS.  Looking for a job when you have one puts you at a real advantage over searching while you are unemployed, so start putting some feelers out there and see what might be available to you in the event your company does not take action to address Michele’s behavior and the affair (if there is one).

I suggest you look for another job not just because this one isn’t going well and your boss sounds like an ass, but also because I think your concerns that Michele has designs on your job are well-founded.  As tell myself on a daily basis: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.

If Chris is spamming Michele’s email in-box, she now has him (and the company) in the palm of her hand. All she needs to do to get your job is to tell Chris: “Give me her job or I’ll tell your wife and your boss that you’ve been quid pro quo-ing me over the lunch hour at the Holiday Inn.”

Michele has Chris’ testicles firmly in hand and if she chooses to squeeze it is you who will feel the pain.  Start making plans for an escape route before you find yourself surfing your smart phone in line at the Oregon Employment Department and finding Facebook photos of Michele in your old office.

I wish you luck. Please let us all know how it turns out for you!

Former Portland lawyer and current Portland big mouth Robin DesCamp is the Velvet Sledgehammer of Truth, smashing through socially acceptable niceties to tell you how to live your life, and why. She blogs at www.askdescamp.com. Write to her at [email protected]


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