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I have worked in places where there seemed to be a general acceptance of inappropriate physical contact in some of the departments. Many of the employees (and managers) came from a sports background where roughhoused and/or physically hitting each other happened on a regular basis. Even if I am not the target, I find the activity extremely intimidating. If I found myself in this sort of situation, would it be OK or even recommended to quit without notice (for fear that the situation may escalate?)? I'm looking for advice regarding leaving after:

  • Saying that I did not approve of the activities
  • ... then the activity continues around me
  • ... then I receive the first physical contact
  • ... then I directly tell someone not to include me in this activity
  • ... then it happens repeatedly

I want to have a game plan here just in case things start to get out of hand. I would not want to face increased aggression during a 'two week notice' period. Also, would my plan need to change if I engaged in a negative physical or verbal response?

Clarification about the type of physical contact the boss is engaging in:

Owner that has a habit of knocking things out of the sales guys hands. Other guys have gotten the spank. I'v gotten the hug, pinch and pressed down by the shoulders - not friendly, but patronizing, uninvited, and subjugating.

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    Are you seriously afraid that you will come to physical harm? Have you talked to anyone other than your peers about this? Also, what country are you in? – DJClayworth May 28 '14 at 15:43
  • *comments removed* Please remember what comments are for. – jmac May 30 '14 at 1:10
  • One way to keep stroppy people at bay is to break things in front of them.Example punch a fence sending the paling with nails flying past them .The discipline here is to NOT break the fence .Then quietly hammer the paling back with your hand so you have not broken anything but you have made a point. – Autistic Mar 24 '16 at 7:17
7

It's not OK to quit without notice. Doing so is essentially violating a contract, and might have bad repurcussions down the road. Also it doesn't sound like you have exhausted the options open to you.

It sounds like you've asked your co-workers not to make physical contact with you, and it hasn't stopped it. Try again, and make sure that it's clear to them this isn't a joke, and you really don't want it. Also talk to whoever is in charge of your team. Say the same things to them. If he says something like "it's only in fun" or "its just fooling around" tell him you don't care what it is, you don't want it done to you. Tell them its affecting your ability to do your job (if it is). Put something in writing or email so there is a record of it.

If that doesn't help, talk to your boss' boss. Also look to see if your company has policies on workplace behaviour, intimidation, harassment, bullying, or physical contact in general. Mention these policies and say how you think the behaviour is violating them (if it is). Also, or if that doesn't work, talk to HR and say the same things to them. Again, put your complaints in writing so there is a record of it.

If none of this works, and you've given the company some time to fix things, now is the time to think about quitting. Obviously finding a new job is better than just quitting, but that's your decision. Work out your notice (If things are really bad, consider taking the occasional sick day during your notice period). And depending on your country, you may want to talk to a lawyer.

If you are being physically harmed, or reasonably believe you are in danger of being physically harmed, that's a different thing altogether, and much more serious.

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  • 10
    I'd qualify that first sentence. If you're being subjected to physical abuse, illegal conduct, flagrantly unsafe working conditions, or other very serious problems, there's nothing wrong with quitting without notice. Your physical and mental well-being is worth more than an employment contract (and in most locales severe misconduct by an employer is grounds for 'constructive dismissal'). Not that that applies in this case (doesn't seem to have progressed quite that far), but there are scenarios in which the notice period can and should be ignored. – aroth May 28 '14 at 23:51
  • *comments removed* Please remember what comments are for. – jmac May 30 '14 at 1:12
4

HR is charged with compliance with the existing labor laws. So HR is the first place you should look for relief.

That's not always an option, though.In the case of one of my CEOs who used to throw solid objects at his employees' faces, the man's wife was the head of HR, and she was under his thumb both professionally and in their personal relationship.

Your State's Department of Labor is charged with enforcing the existing labor laws. They'd be the second place I'd look at.

I suggest that you call your State's Department of Labor at the first opportunity, explain your situation to them and work out with them what your options are. Hopefully, one of these options is being able to quit without notice or with minimal notice and still collect unemployment benefits. You'll need to work out with them how to document that unwanted physical contact, though.

Call or pay a visit to your Congressman's Constituent Services' office,

The staff there has a direct relationship with personnel from the various local, state and Federal agencies. It can put you in touch with this regulatory personnel and act as fixers and your advocate with respect to the regulatory personnel. At least, that's been my experience :) And at least in my case, I found the staff quite resourceful.

Follow-up comment from HLGEM "workplace assaults happen every day in the US. Many workplaces, especially small privately owned firms could care less about labor laws. They know few people will risk their livelihood to pursue legal action and they know that it is hard to prove and often make the Whistleblower the one who becomes unemployable. It ain't right but it is certainly is common"

Additional Note: Years ago, I called the cops on a neighbor who was beating up his wife. I was racking my brains on how to put him away when I recalled that his wife had told me earlier that he had threatened her with a gun. His wife pointed the cops to the illegal gun and the cops took him away for 48 hours. Next morning, I took a personal day off from work and the man's wife and I went to court and I helped her get an Order of Protection by the afternoon of the same day. When he got back from his frat house initiation after having said hello to the judge, the wife was waving the Order of Protection in his face. Violation of an Order of Protection in New York State would put him in the Big House for a year. As he was not to be closer than 10 feet to her for the life of the Order of Protection. He stayed honest for a year :) You might consider getting an Order of Protection as a possible course of action. But you'll have to justify and substantiate to the Assistant DA why you want that Order of Protection before he gets one for you.

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3

In the end only you can say how bad the situation is, and the degree of physical interaction verging on violence, and your perception are going to be entirely specific to you.

Here's some rules of thumb I'd suggest...

Seriously Unsafe

If you honestly believe that being in your workplace tomorrow will cause you to be injured physically, don't go to work. Go to human resources or legal and report an unsafe workplace. State that you refuse to return to the workplace until the safety issue is addressed. If they say "work or quit" - then quit and look into the procedures in your locale for filing a suit for failure to ensure employee safety.

From what you say, I'm not sure that this is the case for you - you mention some pretty physical rough housing, but nothing sounds like it's being done with the intention to hurt others, nor is anything so risky that you stand a serious chance of being hurt. But I can't tell from the outside, conclusively.

Cases where I'd consider this an option:

  • Anyone in the office is truly physically threatened
  • Anyone operating dangerous tools appears to be drunk, stoned or otherwise incapacitated
  • Anyone in the office is encouraged by a supervisor to ignore basic safety precautions

Really, really demeaning

Say something.

If you have:

1 - Expressed clearly that you don't want to be included in the physical interaction (publicly or privately)

2 - Been ignored by those you spoke to

Then you have grounds to file a complaint with human resources or legal. Company policy and country norms will vary on this one, but at least in the US, most companies have an escalation procedure. Rules can vary whether the issue is coming from the supervisor, coworkers or both - but there is generally an escalation procedure that involves documenting the physical interaction, the statements you've made asking not to participate in the interaction, and then the fact that your request was ignored.

If your HR department isn't offering a procedure for reporting this, then take it up with your boss's boss and keep working your way up the chain.

I wish I could promise that using these reporting procedures would guarantee a positive result, but I can't. I think companies are getting smarter about the fact that ways of showing camaraderie are highly variable and what one person or group thinks is totally normal can be totally offensive to another person or group. It should be OK for someone to express the problem and for the team to find a way to include them in a less offensive way in a team spirit that everyone can pariticipate in... but that's a happy dream world that isn't realized in every situation.

NOTE: Fixing this can take days or weeks or even months. It's your call on what feels unsafe to you, and how much you need this job, and how much time you want to spend job hunting vs. working through this reporting process. If you don't report inappropriate physical interactions outside the sphere of the problem, it's unlikely that the problem will get fixed.

That's why the judgement call on safety - unsafe is one thing, uncomfortable, humiliating and inappropriate are not OK, but not the same thing as actual bodily injury.

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Quitting without notice is unprofessional and could come back to haunt you. When a future employer verifies your employment with your current employer, your current employer could mention that you quit without notice. Even if you have an excellent reason for having done so, this information could cause your future employer to question whether they should hire you. It's bad enough that you have to deal with this situation now. You don't want this bad situation to have a negative impact on you in the future.

With this in mind, you need to come up with a plan of action for staying for your full notice period. If the situation is occurring around you but not directly to you, you can reduce the number of opportunities that you have for this to occur around you, and possibly remove yourself from situations when it is occurring. After all, it is your notice period, so you are focusing on getting everything ready so that you leave with all loose ends tied up.

If you are touched by your supervisor, you simply say loudly "do not touch me". You might want to identify someone who is also uncomfortable with this situation who can also help you in this situation. You might want to discuss this with someone else (another employee, your supervisor's manager, etc). Discussing this with HR can be fraught with problems, although if you've already put in your notice, this might not be such an issue.

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