My mom works as a bookkeeper at a company in the same business park that Anonymous Software Company is located. We see each other occasionally and sometimes take breaks at the same time to sit outside together on benches in the grass area between our buildings. This can be nice, but it also means my mom is able to track me down any time she wants to.

Over the past few years I grew close to Emmie, my mom’s coworker. She’s a few years older than me and one of those partying people that the quiet, home-bound types (like me) sometimes envy. After a few years of working with my mom, Emmie started to change drastically; this may have had something to do with her controlling boyfriend or her cancer diagnosis.

Before she had been preppy and cheerful, suddenly she ignored us all. Even saying “hi” while passing by garnered a glare. She stopped answering her work phone and stayed logged off of the company instant messanger, making emails the only way to communicate with her. Depending on who was emailing, she could leave you waiting for a reply for over a week. She also started sneaking out of work early on days that the boss wasn’t in the office or leaves early himself.

My mom is one of those people who can’t let things go. Most people would try to see what’s wrong and when they didn’t succeed they would just ignore her back. My mom thought it was an effect of the chemo…until Emmie beat her cancer and went into remission but her attitude stayed. A few months after the good news mom and I went on a walk around the parking lot and she started complaining, upset about Emmie.

“What has she done that is so friggen awful?” I asked, kindly of course.

“It’s just the way she treats everyone, especially me. Every morning I come in and say ‘good morning’ and she never says anything back! It’s very hostile.”

“Seriously? It’s not a requirement of her job to say good morning and it’s not important to the business. Not saying hello doesn’t create a hostile work environment.”

“That’s not the only thing! Her notebook, it drives me crazy.”

“Notebook? Like a diary?”

“I don’t know if it’s a diary, but anytime I get up or sit down at my desk, she’s writing notes in this little book. And if I happen to glance her way she snaps it shut, like I’m peeking. I have no clue if she’s writing down what she’s doing for work or writing notes about me. But it feels like it’s directed at me.” I had an instant flash to Harriet the Spy.

“I’m sure you’re just paranoid. Plent of people write down when they complete things or create to do lists to keep everything in order.” I kept up that line any time she bitched about Emmie and her notebook. Until the confrontation.

The other bookkeeper for this company is a man I’ll call Mr. Rogers – he’s just as cheerful as the actor, just much younger. Around 30ish. He’s in a perpetual good mood and I’ve never seen him anything but even tempered. He has also made comments about Emmie’s notebook and a few weeks ago he blew up at her about it.

After a long lunch meeting, he strolled into his cubicle – Emmie is located right between mom and Mr. Rogers. As he put down his computer, Emmie scribbled in her notebook and then made a comment about how she’d love to take a long lunch but had too much work to do. Mr. Roger’s snapped at her, telling her it was none of her business but he’d been in meetings and that if she had something to say to be an adult and say it and not mutter untrue gossip.

The next day all of the surrounding cubicles had been papered with a photocopied typed list of how to properly act in an office. #3 was circled, it said: “3. Respect others – do not yell at or belittle your coworkers.” Mr. Rogers asked Emmie if she had printed and distributed the papers and she denied it. He immediately marched to their boss’ office and when confronted by the boss, Emmie admitted that it was her. The papers were removed, although she was allowed to keep one in her cubicle. Mr. Rogers and my mom complained but were told it was allowed – another manager warned her that Emmie was in a number of minority groups – based on her race, gender and medical issues – and that her company has a history of ignoring issues from people like that for fear of being sued.

Last week mom and I went on a walk and she was extremely agitated. Her boss had called her into his office and asked her about Emmie’s desk. Apparently Emmie complained that her notebook and some personal items had been moved. According to mom, her boss emphasized that she was not being accused of anything but she felt like it was implied. She denied doing anything and went back to her desk, but worries that Emmie is setting up a hostile work environment claim.

Now that Mom is so worked up about it, every little thing is getting to her. The fact that Emmie sighs loudly when Mom picks up her phone, she slams her drawers and scribbles in that notebook drives her batty. Plus there’s a new thing.

“When she walks by my desk to go home she won’t look at me and as she passes by she says ‘ugh’. Every. Single. Day.”

“Don’t fixate, it’s not healthy.”

“You don’t know what it’s like to have someone treat you so badly all of the time!”

“When I was a kid, you used to tell me to ignore kids when they acted badly. It pissed me off that they got a pass for being jerks, so I’m going to piss you off. Guess what? Ignoring your morning greeting, sighing when you pick up the phone, saying ‘ugh’ when she walks by – it’s rude, but she can be rude if she wants. Get over it. It sounds like she’s doing it just to mess with you, in which case you can ignore it like an adult or you can get your own notebook and when she says ‘ugh’ or whatever, write notes. But not about her, write things like what project you’re working on, or things you can do to improve your job. That way if she complains about your notebook, you can hand it over and show that you haven’t been doing anything wrong. Then demand they look at her notebook. Either man up and start playing the manipulation game or learn to live with it.”

Mom is convinced that this all constitutes a hostile work environment…I’m not so sure. Any opinions?

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