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Tuesday, February 19, 2008


My co-worker, a peer has accused me of not doing my job, leaving early and skipping assignments. (NOT TRUE) He pulled me aside at work to accuse me of these things and did not tell management. He did say all of my other co-workers agreed with him that I was not "pulling my weight". Is this a form of harassment?

He did not threaten to tell management, was just letting me know.... but I feel like this is a scare tactic to get me to quit, or some sort of other targeting ploy to harass me.

I tried to ignore it.... but yesterday I found out (through a meeting with him and my manager) that two months ago he contacted my manager to tell her that I do not shave under my arms, and that it is offending customers. (no one SAID this, he could just tell) He did not feel comfortable approaching me about it at the time because the last time he approached me it "Backfired" on him.

Do I have grounds to go to HR about this? Do my peers have the right to discuss my shaving habits? That is not his business. Are my job activities even any of his business if they do not directly affect him??

"Rights" is a word that gets thrown around without anyone really thinking about what it really means. Of course, your co-workers have the "right" to discuss your shaving habits. Free speech baby. Now, does your company have to allow that? No. Do you have to remain silent about it? No.

Now truth be told, unless you are a life guard, I think you shouldn't be wearing anything that reveals the status of your armpits. Sleeveless is just not professional. (I know many people disagree with me. Get your own blog. How about I think it's available.)

If you are asking if his behavior is illegal, that's a different question. Perhaps. I would need to know more about him and you and what really happened. He sounds, basically, like a big jerk. So, let's handle him. We'll call him Steve.

Jerk: You aren't pulling your own weight. Everyone agrees with me.
You: Steve, that's just not true. You know it's not true. Furthermore, our boss knows it's not true.

And then you walk off.

Jerk: Your armpits are unprofessional and gross.
You: Your comments are inappropriate and border on sexual harassment. I'm going to report this comment to Human Resources/manager.

And then you walk off.

Jerk: You clocked in 3 minutes late today.
You just walk off.

You to your manager: Steve keeps questioning my performance and dress. Do you have concerns about either of these things? I'm happy to make changes in how I work, if what I'm doing is less effective.

Your manager may respond that you aren't pulling your weight and your armpits are gross. (They are--hair or not. Put some sleeves on.) Fine. Make those changes. If your manager is extremely wimpy, he may be relying on Steve to convey messages to the other employees. Why on earth is Steve in a meeting with you and your manager? It sounds like he does have some supervisory authority over you. In that case, you need to make sure you remain professional with him. He may have authority to talk to you about your late arrival, dress, or work habits.

If this is the case, you need to get that clarified with your manager. If it is not the case, the main thing is that you don't engage Steve and you do your best to ignore him. Do talk with your manager to make sure that you are performing up to expectations. Do report his behavior to your manager and/or Human Resources. Do this in a matter-of-fact way and not in a weepy "I'm picked on" way. Steve may not be sexually harassing you now, but he certainly seems capable of it. The company can't do anything about it if they don't know about it.

Steve enjoys yanking your chain. Don't let him yank it any more. He's stuck in 7th grade. You move on.


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say fab advice all around EHRL...

Jackie Cameron said...

I agree that not engaging with him is a great idea.
I would however be so tempted to ask him for names - who is "everybody" that agrees with him(maybe this is something the manager should be asking).
Always remember - just because someone says it does not make it true.

Anonymous said...

Actually, not so fab advice. We are missing vital context here (i.e. only one side of the story), and automatically labelling "Steve" as a jerk is unprofessional. You hint at it, but you leapt to a biased -- and quite possibly sexist -- opinion. Furthermore, if the questioner is dressing in accordance with the company's guidelines, then expressing your opinion on the merits (or rather, the lack thereof) of sleeveless tops is out of line.

Now the questioner said that she was told that everyone felt she wasn't pulling her weight. Hard to know if that's true. But perhaps she isn't? Maybe she thinks she is doing a good job, but really isn't. Maybe Steve and the others simply want someone who is part of the team and less an individual.

It is not harassment for a team member to tell you aren't pulling your weight. It is fair criticism. The only proper response to such a comment is to ask "What can I do better?" You listen to his side, consider what has been said to you, and try not to get overly defensive. It's criticism! It's going to sting. It's up to you to decide whether to give it any value.

But let's say you do all the things that Steve asks you to improve on and he still moans. Then you're being unfairly harassed. Then you know it's personal. Then you take it to your line manager for resolution.

As for shaving armpits, it is none of his business. Hairy armpits are not a sign of uncleanliness. It may not be considered feminine, but you are entitled to shave or not shave them. If anyone of your managers tells you must shave them or else your fired (notwithstanding dress code regulations, e.g. sleeveless tops are not allowed), then you have a civil liberties lawsuit to consider.

Anyway, we don't know if Steve doesn't like the questioner, and she clearly doesn't like him. We also don't know what job Steve does in relation to hers. Without these, any advice given is speculative at best, even mine.

HR Godess said...

We certainly are assuming that what the person is saying is true but isn't that what the whole blog is about? I don't think the Evil HR Lady has any choice but to assume she is being given all the facts and does a great job by interpreting what she's given.

Being in HR myself, I agree with EHRL, sleeveless is not professional. If you dress professionally, then it doesn't matter whether you choose to shave your armpits. I prefer not to know, one way or the other.

My "opinion" on the case at hand is that the way it's presented is leading me to believe that her co-workers are overstepping. They have the right to their own opinions and they may be right, but her manager should be addressing the situation. By allowing this type of behavior, the door is being opened for a morale problem, if one doesn't exist already.

Evil HR Lady said...


We always just get one side of the story. Steve is welcome to write me to defend his behavior.

It is never appropriate for a co-worker to comment on the state of someone's armpit hair. Whether sleeveless is allowed in the dress code or not is irrelevant to me. I still don't think it's professional.

It would be appropriate for a co-worker to say, "Hey, it seems like I'm always having to pick up your slack." It is not appropriate for a co-worker to use intimidation ("we all think you are a slacker"). If there is a performance issue, the manager should be addressing it. If Steve has management authority over her, that should be made clear.

Ask a Manager said...

I always love to wonder what the other side of the story is that we might not be hearing, but EHRL is right -- even if the writer isn't pulling her own weight, Steve is in the wrong for the way he's handling it. Whether or not there's any merit to Steve's assessment of her work, Steve is behaving like an ass.