Dealing With Bullying at Work

Dear gCaptain,
I have a situation at work for which I need some advice. As I normally post under my own name, and the parties involved in this story would otherwise be identifiable, I need to post this from a throwaway account. Please excuse the subterfuge.

After my last venture at sea proved unprofitable, I have taken permanent employment as mechanic at a small yard, going on my third month now. Life is extremely comfortable. Both the office and the boys on the floor fear and respect me to the point that it’s actually kinda lonely, and I find myself in a strange place between the two. I mean, they don’t even make fun of me when I forget to take off my protective eye wear for lunch, for fuck’s sake. Meanwhile, I have free reign of the place, don’t get no shit from nobody, and can order any tool that I want. Nice.

Now for the problem. We have a mechanic’s apprentice, let’s call him Ahmed, who immigrated from Tunisia a few years ago. He is everybody’s favorite victim, and has taken to the role like a duck to water. Then there’s this Latvian yard hand, named… Radovan. He’s a body builder of simple tastes, whose favorite subject is how much he wants to beat all gays to death. Radovan is especially hard on Ahmed. This ranges from verbal abuse of the loudest and foulest sort, through literally pushing him around.

There is of course an air of good natured ribbing going on, but this goes well and truly above and beyond. Ahmed pretends that he’s cool with it all, but I can tell that it eats him. The other day, after he received a particularly vicious shove to the back, so that tools and engine parts went flying everywhere, I caught a look on his face when he thought I wasn’t looking that broke my heart. I feel a strong need to do something, not just because the situation makes me acutely uncomfortable, but also because someone needs to do right by the boy. Management is plainly disinterested, but they both desperately want to buddy up to me, which leaves me with a bit of leverage.

Confronting the situations directly as they develop in front of me has had limited success; Radovan laughs raucously and fires off a few more insults, while Ahmed scrapes his foot and scampers. Confronting Radovan privately only elicits such vile bad mouthing that I’m lost for words, and leaves me thinking that he honestly detests Ahmed with his whole being. I also need to be careful not to act as Ahmed’s protector, because that will simply make the problem invisible to me while it persists when I’m not looking.

Coaching Ahmed on dealing with the situation comes with its own bouquet of issues. For one, he refuses to acknowledge the problem, because he doesn’t want to appear weak to me. Furthermore, I believe that the most effective way of dealing with a persistent bully is an unrestrained dose of life changing violence, which requires a victim capable and willing to harm his fellow man. Not only would bringing Ahmed up to speed be a prohibitively time consuming exercise in frustration, but I’ve had the empathy most thoroughly beat out of me at a tender age, and don’t consider it much of a gift. It’s certainly not something I would bestow on someone without careful consideration.

So far, I’ve had some success with telling Radovan to go to Ahmed when he needs help with something, thinking that being forced to acknowledge his usefulness should force some respect. However, I’m afraid of deepening his hatred.

Management’s picking on Ahmed needs to stop, and that is something I’ve got covered, it’ll just take some time. I have the final word in technical matters, and the guy is learning from me, so they will learn to appreciate his skill in due course.

Finally, I need to somehow convince Ahmed to say “your mom” a lot more often, I just don’t know how. Of course, I could just grow a pair and kick up a shit storm, but I’m just that little bit too selfish to give up my easy life for a kid who can’t stand up for himself. Any advice on how to untangle this mess without burning too much social capital would be greatly appreciated.

Here you go,

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Seems plain to me that Radovan is in the closet and wants Ahmed. Good luck with that.

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Of course I told them as much :smiley:

Yeah, that sounds like love.

When Ahmed texts you: “Hey man, don’t come into work tomorrow” I think you should listen.

If you are the technical talent you can be a diva and get your way. If they “fear and respect” you they should be willing to listen to your opinions on employees.

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Good point.

The foreman is a piss weak character who skulks away to the office and complains to Boss Man when Radovan gets loud. Boss Man is a micro managing asshole whose respect extends to sparing me the condescension he showers on everyone else, but not to letting me tell him how to run his business. Any mention of protecting Ahmed is countered with a long list of fuckups he made because he was left to complex tasks without adequate supervision. Radovan, meanwhile, is undeniably a highly productive worker.

Of course, I could say: “Look, I can’t have this kid be a nervous wreck if I’m gonna teach him, so this is how it’s gonna go…” but I’d much rather solve this through victim empowerment, preferably with management far out of the loop. Thanks for the advice, though.

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Time to get QHSE involved. No one deserves a hostile work environment

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laughed out loud at that (because it’s true)

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There’s not really a way out of this short of one of them leaving. All the legal methods at Ahmed’s disposal (basically suing due to racial, religious, and/or sexual orientation discrimination) would also put you in the crosshairs because it sounds like you’re his boss, are aware of the harassment, and haven’t taken the necessary measures to stop it. Because of that, you’re not likely to recommend to Ahmed the legal remedies at his disposal. Possible to transfer him out? Sounds like you might want to keep the Latvian guy as he’s a good worker.

Not the PC answer, but trying to offer a solution under the terms you asked for.

My first class in this side of things was some years ago, the class itself was of marginal use but the material included a reading list. One of the books on the list I spotted in the used book bin one day, Principle Centered Leadership by Covey of Seven Habits fame.

That book seems to miss the mark in places to me now but at the time there was a lot of new information.

Long way around of saying a couple things in the book stuck with me and one was with some people there is no cure, they need to be removed from the organization.

I don’t know in your case of course but in my experience that’s very good advice. If you’re not in charge you can’t fire people but as captain I can and it’s a low cost move with high benefits. It’s amazing how much a single person can disrupt the entire operation. Being a dick is a power move in my view and if they are not accountable they don’t deserve the power.

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I’m not “asking for a friend”, I’m just a guy who likes to play working class hero and stick his nose where it doesn’t belong. I appreciate your input, but I don’t think it applies. The biggest part of the problem is that Ahmed won’t acknowledge it, much less lodge a formal complaint. If only he did that, it would be way easier to take a firm stance with management or just confront the shit head on.

Thank you, that’s surely sound business advice, although I wouldn’t be quite sure who to fire. Radovan is by far the biggest earner of the two. He doesn’t have issues with anyone else (except maybe Foreman), and men with his work ethic and physical capacity don’t grow on trees this deep in the boondocks. Ahmed has already gotten a couple of years of experience, and he’s far from stupid, but he is under performing badly because of motivation issues and what looks an awful lot like a depression. I’m sure that with the right coaching he could be an extremely valuable asset to the company. However, none of this is my business, and firing someone wouldn’t get to the heart of what bothers me.

Ahmed is just such a willing victim that no matter if his tormentor goes away or he gets sent to a friendlier place, he’ll end up right back under somebody’s heel. He needs to find his legs somehow, speak up for himself and deal with life, but I don’t know how to help him. His tool set is a poor match for my social survival skills, so I can’t just pass them on.

Of course, I could stop white knighting so fucking hard and mind my own business, which would surely be the most rational course of action. Having known his darkness, though, I can’t help but feel bad for the kid, and I want to help him in any way I can.

Just my 2 cents but Radovan should go as he is the harasser and creating your hostile work environment. Perceived assets can quickly turn into liabilities. No one is irreplaceable.

Ahmed should go if he can’t do the job.

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My first response was snark. Now I will give you my advice as a former business owner, employer and division leader.
Radovan has to go.
There is no room in an organization for someone who blatantly harasses a co-worker. It doesn’t matter how good a “performer” they are, or how difficult it may seem to replace them. This is behavior that is often related to other damaging behavior (that you may not even know about).
Every work place is a team environment. People like Radovan destroy that dynamic by refocusing people’s energy on dealing with their antics. They force people to take sides (as you are doing), and effectively prevent an organization from hiring people who might not “fit” with him.
His toxic drama may be affecting more staff than you realize, because people will put up with a lot in silence to keep getting a paycheck, right up until a less toxic job comes along.
People like that bring out the worst in everyone around them, they are obviously breaking rules, which leads to an environment of rule-breakers.
This isn’t an “Ahmed” problem, it’s a “Radovan” problem.

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If Ahmed leaves then Radovan picks a new person to harrass/bully.

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Agreed. There is nothing that will happen as a result having Radovan out of your life that will be worse than having him in your life.

If you think in good graces with the office crowd, it’s time for the “he goes or I go” routine, backed up with evidence.

Intolerable situations should not be tolerated.

Good luck.

Earl

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oh, if that’s the case then you should do the right thing. That is, report and document this obvious violation up the chain of command at your company. If they don’t do anything about it (and assuming they don’t “lay you off” for your efforts), then take it to an outside agency who would salivate at the chance to take up the case of an immigrant in a protected class (probably multiple protected classes) who is being victimized by “the man” especially if “the man” is not in a protected class.

From your original post, it sounded like you were looking for a way to not do this in order to avoid that very real possibility that you will in fact be “laid off” for pushing this.

For review (as this has been brought up before on this forum):

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Let’s keep one thing clear: I side with Ahmed in this, totally and without question. Of course, the only fair and just course of action from a management standpoint would be to strike down on Radovan with great vengeance and fuuuurious anger. My point was twofold: One, Ahmed’s interests might not be perfectly aligned with those of the business, and I’m out to help the kid before I help the company. Two, Ahmed has problems that go beyond Radovan.

As a former victim of some pretty fucked up harassment over many years (yay victim card), let me assure you: Ahmed’s torment doesn’t end until he learns to face it. He is everybody’s doormat, Radovan is just the one who takes it to the next level. IMNSHO, the best for all involved, especially the company, would be if Ahmed could grow some fangs and bite back hard enough to put Radovan in his place. That’d be a wondrous learning experience for both of them.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen any time soon, so it may indeed be that y’all have given me the advice I need rather than what I want. Thanks, I’m out.

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What he does outside of work or long term goals should not matter. What matters is you have someone harassing another in the work place.

That is not how it is suppose to work nor should it. What if things get to the point those “fangs” are assisted by an AR15? Extreme case, I know, or it goes the other extreme where one day Ahmed doesn’t come to work and commits suicide. You want him to grow “fangs” in a place where he probably feels management doesn’t have his back. Who would get fired if a confrontation took place?

It is time to start the disciplinary process with Radovan. If someone doesn’t have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the guy management can expect this behavior to spread by allowing it.

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