Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Office Politics, Workplace Harassment & the Disabled

Trying to look for more information on this. Situated in Vi qdllc07/25/17
Is there any way to handle informally? Or obtain pre-formal tom_foolery07/25/17
Informal resolution might be desirable, but once the ball st qdllc07/25/17
Is the office manager the HFA employee's direct supervisor? downwardslope07/25/17
qdllc (Jul 25, 2017 - 9:36 am)

Trying to look for more information on this. Situated in Virginia law, but any insight would be helpful.

Fact Pattern:

Employee with HFA (high-functioning autism). Very good at the job but is fairly clueless about how to handle people in "real time" (e.g., may know what's going on but not how to appropriately respond in the moment). New person in the office who thinks it's their place to tell others how to do their job when they hold no position of authority. The office manager is either clueless or would think there isn't a problem going on as most of the alleged "offenses" would seem minor or frivolous to a "normal" person.

The autistic employee is prone to anxiety and depression issues just from the stresses of life and their condition. Obtaining and keeping good employment have been lifetime challenges due to the social inability to connect well with others. The recent personnel change has caused an increase in anxiety levels, and past work experiences with office politics have routinely ended with the autistic employee looking like the bad actor due to an inappropriate response to the situation.

In this type of situation, when is it appropriate to lodge a formal complaint against the offending party? There has been no overt bad behavior by the offending party, but waiting for such an event to occur can mean months of low-level torment. The complaints in this case do seem minor, petty, and somewhat paranoid, but other employees are not playing head games to establish their place in the "pecking order," so the new development is not part of a pre-existing office dynamic.

Thanks for whatever insight you can offer.

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tom_foolery (Jul 25, 2017 - 10:35 am)

Is there any way to handle informally? Or obtain pre-formal complaint remedies? If this happened in my job, I would have the supervisor pull this new person aside and explain the importance of working as a team, and that we were all on the same team, and that we needed to work together with the HFA employee to achieve the company's mission. I'd also say we have an obligation to follow federal law and make accommodations to those with disabilities, and to avoid creating or fostering a hostile working environment.

Then try to get the supervisor to tell the HFA employee that they will support him generically, etc etc.

You could try to get this documented, and if the behavior of the offender continued, and your client's anxiety increased, you have bolstered your case.

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qdllc (Jul 25, 2017 - 11:00 am)

Informal resolution might be desirable, but once the ball starts rolling, the concern is escalation or retaliation by other parties.

There are more than enough cases where the "victim" tries to play nice only to have the situation turn on them. It appears that the filing of a formal complaint gets the benefit of the doubt and a presumption of malice if there is a negative response. The HFA employee is maintaining a log of incidents so we don't rely on memory when it comes to establishing what happened and when.

Even if we keep the matter "in house" (not filing with the EEOC or state agency), just filing a copy of a grievance concurrently with human resources in the home office and the office manager could bring undesired consequences. So, it would be nice to know when the line has been crossed and any grievance would not come across as unfounded.

Another employee has had issues with the offending party and told them to mind their own business, but that individual is highly valued, has been with the company for a long time, and is renowned for not taking nonsense from others. If the company had to let one of them go, the new person would be the obvious choice based on what they bring to the table. The same may not be so for the HFA employee.

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downwardslope (Jul 25, 2017 - 12:34 pm)

Is the office manager the HFA employee's direct supervisor? I think before a formal complaint is filed, it should be addressed with his/her direct supervisor that someone else is trying to dictate the work duties. Ideally the supervisor should be the one talking to the new person and saying that it is the supervisor's role to tell a subordinate what to do, not the new employee.

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