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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Inconsiderate Co-Workers

Dear Sue: I work with a team of six people. Several months ago we hired a coworker to fill a much-needed position. Management decided that all of the sales commissions from our team would go to this team member. In the past, commissions were split between all of us.

When management made this decision I told them that I thought this was unfair. They told me they would look into additional compensation, but so far, I haven't received anything.

To make things even more stressful, the employee we hired has missed over two months worth of work in the short time she has been with us. Every week she has something that interferes with her work. She's had family emergencies, friends flying into town, dental emergencies, medical appointments, etc.

The rest of us are very frustrated and although we don't want to appear negative to management, our resentment is building. I do not feel that she is a team player or that she cares about her work. The rest of us have been putting in extra hours to get the work done (we are salaried) while she works much less.

She just announced that she'll be taking some time off for some surgery. Initially she told us that the timing of her surgery was flexible, yet she has scheduled it to take place now. Her timing couldn't be worse because an account manager just quit and we have two people on vacation. This will leave a skeleton crew, but she doesn't seem concerned.

Our entire team has been torn apart. Everyone else chooses to talk behind her back, but I would like to confront her and tell her how I feel.

- Upset

Sue Says: You have every right to talk with her about your concerns and frustrations, but why take this on all by yourself? Why not call a meeting with this woman, your team members and management? Focus on the "problem", which is too much work and not enough team members to get it done. Don't be afraid to voice your concerns about the number of absences this woman has had and the affect it is having on the team.

Missing two out of the six months she has been employed raises a red flag - if management hasn't noticed, it's time it's brought to their attention.

Speaking up about your concerns is constructive, and if done with the intent to resolve the problem, should not reflect negatively on you.

Dear Sue: I was fired from a job because I refused to give a discount to an angry customer. She told my manager that I was rude and refused to assist her. My manager refused to hear my side of the story and believed everything the customer said.

Coincidentally, at the same time, the corporate office ordered huge cuts in hours. I have never been fired from a job, and I don't know how to answer the question of why I left when I send out resumes and fill out applications. Please help me!

- Unemployed

Sue Says: Although being fired from a job can be devastating, it doesn't hold the negative stigma it once did. People are let go all the time, and for a variety of reasons.

Unless you are asked specific questions, you may be able to get by without providing much information about why you left. The fact that hours were being cut back at the same time you were let go does pose the possibility that it was an influencing factor in your dismissal. Use that to your advantage.

Dear Sue: I am the only female working with 5 men in my department. I have a difficult boss who just doesn't seem to like me. I have been employed here for more than 6 years, yet I don't get any respect from him.

It seems as though I have to play by a different set of rules than my coworkers do. My boss will often says stuff to me like, "Well, if you don't like it, then quit." I've even heard customers remark that they don't understand why he says the things he does about me because I seem to be the only one that really helps them.

I finally involved the human resource department about a month ago and now he will not allow me to receive any phone calls when I'm away from my desk. He will page everyone else to the phone, but not me. I'm sick of his attitude, his slamming the door in my face and his put-downs. Please tell me how you would handle this.

-Fed Up

Sue Says: I would do everything in my power to change this terrible situation, but you may need more help than I can give you because you may be the victim of sex discrimination. I sought the advice of Roy S. Ginsburg, employment law counsel for Merrill Corporation in Minneapolis.

Although more facts would be needed for an attorney to effectively assess your case, he said you may have a viable sexual harassment claim and that the comments made by your boss may constitute a hostile work environment. However, if the verbal harassment is more in the form of statements such as, "I don't like or respect you" put-downs, legally, there is little you can do since there are no laws that require bosses to treat employees with respect.

You also may have a sex discrimination claim based on the apparent different treatment that you have been receiving. Once again, you would need to demonstrate how that treatment significantly impacted your work environment. Lacking permission to receive phone calls away from your desk, in and of itself, while perhaps demeaning, is extremely unlikely to provide the basis for a successful sex discrimination claim. However, that behavior, combined with other types of differential treatment, could lead to different result.

There also is the possibility of a retaliation claim. It is against the law for employers to take an adverse employment action against employees who complain about discrimination. In your situation however, it is very problematic whether restricting where you can take your telephone calls would constitute an adverse employment action.

You may just be the victim of a "difficult boss." If that is the case, your best bet is to forget about lawyers and try to involve your human resources department again to facilitate meetings with your boss to work through your issues. The chances of success may not be terribly good, but you've got nothing to lose by trying. If that doesn't work, check out the possibility of a transfer to another work area in your company. If all of your options have been exhausted, you have to ask yourself if you can continue to tolerate your "difficult" boss. If in your mind the status quo is intolerable, start looking for another job. In this vibrant economy, there are plenty of other organizations who will not only value your talents, but will provide you with a nice boss, too.

The bottom line is that you don't have to suffer or take this type of abuse - there are many options available to you.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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