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(This happened in Florida) I'm told the only time a company can be sued for "hostile work environment" is when someone is fired for being of a certain sex, race, age, etc. So what's the solution (other than just quitting, obviously) for the following situation:

The company's PTO policy is that PTO is taken in blocks of 8 hours. In other words, if you take 30 minutes to run an errand, 8 hours comes out of your reserve. You are given the opportunity to make up time, but if you can only work an extra 7 hours, you do not get 7 hours of PTO back. It's 8 or nothing.

The situation: The company does not require uniforms or special attire. There is no written or verbal rule about skirt length. The company doesn't even see the public, so they could literally do their jobs in pajamas. However, a manager decides one day that a worker's skirt (hits just at the knee, worn in offices every day. Shorter skirts are worn by others) is 'too short', and sends the worker, who lives an hour away, to change clothes. So the worker is gone 2+ hours. However, due to childcare constraints, the worker doesn't stand a chance of making up the hours.

The manager, however 'runs errands' on the clock. Using the excuse of running out for supplies or to the bank (30 minutes for the average person) to take nearly the entire day to do whatever.

This is habitual. The manager is a close friend of the owner of the company, who gives special attention to workers he likes, and makes a point to apply "special rules" to those he doesn't. The manager's job is to carry out the "special rules".

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    It seems like you have 3-4 questions in here: PTO policy (8 hours "all or none" policy), dress-code (skirt length), special rules (the manager breaks the rules) and "badmouthing your employer" in an interview. Can you pick one issue and then just focus on that in your question? – Brandin Sep 17 '15 at 11:41
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    Personally, I would have left after seeing the company's PTO policy. But that is beside the point. Is there a company dress code on the books? – Jake Sep 17 '15 at 11:43
  • I've answered your core question ("what constitutes a hostile workplace") since it's a useful addition to the site and HR or experienced managers can be expected to know this definition which makes it on-topic here. However, your question still mostly reads like a rant and should be cleaned up. I've gone ahead and already removed your "bonus question", have a look through the interviewing questions as that should have been brought up before. – Lilienthal Sep 17 '15 at 11:47
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    Thank you all for the input. @jmorc, I've personally been with this manager on two occasions when I supplied the transportation. Manager actually joked about me having an easy day (as opposed to being at the office). We were gone until one hour before close after grocery shopping, car shopping and dropping off items for the manager's family member. Egregious abuse of policy. – queenofgreen Sep 17 '15 at 22:30
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    Just because of PTO policy and skirt size, you call it hostile? You have not seen real hostile workplace yet. – scaaahu Sep 18 '15 at 3:11
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tl;dr: you don't want to quit, but it's probably your best option given what you are describing.

Jerk/awful manager who is close friend of CEO --> unlikely for any meaningful success changing conditions.


Haters gonna hate - what is "hostile workplace"?

What constitutes a “hostile workplace”?

People use the phrase all the time to basically mean, "this place is awful to work at because of practices that are [bad, unfair, nitpicky, overbearing, micromanaging, terrible management, etc]." In other words: the place has policies/people that make it SUCK to work at. This may or may not mean it fits the legal definition.

In your case, it sounds like it's unfair that:

  • Management gets different provisions for time off than employees
  • Dress code is applied randomly/inconsistently
  • Time off policies are awful
  • The manager is a jerk/loser but close friend of the owner

I can confirm that this is a work environment that, without context, sounds really, really bad to work in. I'm sorry you have to deal with this.

Also, just a technicality - just because a lawsuit might not be resolved in your favor does not mean you cannot file one. If you choose to go this route I strongly suggest finding a lawyer familiar with your local laws/codes. If you find someone willing to work purely for a percentage of any outcome you may be able to settle/cause some financial damage to the company even if you lose the lawsuit. This lawyer would much more accurately be able to answer your question, "is my situation a lawsuit type of situation?"

What to do??

Unfortunately, options are pretty limited in places without significant employee protection/laws.

  • Quit. This is nearly always the best/easiest way to do things.
    • People get stuck believing that since their boss/workplace is awful, all workplaces are - it's not true, it's a lie, and is one of the main reasons those places can remain existing. They also believe they can't find anything else.
    • Workplaces like this tend to demoralize people into feeling hopeless. Hopeless about any other job, hopeless about their situation, and powerless to do anything. DO NOT LET THIS BE YOU!!! I can't emphasize this enough! Do not become resigned to your fate of working a terrible job. Life is too short to work for a job which makes you hate life.
  • Save money (to allow quitting in future). Often people can't quit because they are broke without the job. Save enough money you can quit, if needed - you'll be surprised how much less BS you put up with if you can just walk out and not starve. This is one of the main reasons having several months living expenses can be beneficial for life.
  • Approach other management. If your problems are with a single person, you can sometimes achieve success by approaching others in the company with concerns. This is a risky thing however.
    • In your case? the manager is a close friend of the owner. This route is nearly guaranteed to not work (but in similar cases it might).
    • Document in detail the violations of the people in question so you can say explicitly what your concerns are. "X is a bad manager!" is far worse than, "on Sept 17, X sent Y home to change her skirt. Our dress code says ABC which makes her skirt in compliance. Because of our time off policy, Y was forced to take vacation. On Sept 16, X was gone during working hours for 6 hours to pick up items from the bank." etc
    • This is not guaranteed to work and may result in you simply losing your job.
  • Form a union. This is also not guaranteed to work and may very well backfire. But if all the employees collectively say, "we will not work until these conditions change" there is more leverage to change them.
    • This is somewhat a nuclear option, and if you aren't prepared for a lot of stress/hostility with your employer don't do this. Unions were created partially because of crappy work conditions and to give workers the ability to fight stuff like what you are describing
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    I do want to point out that if the boss is salaried exempt, he is under different rules for attendance than employees who are hourly non-exempt and he may be working at nights or from home and you are not aware of it. So while it may appear unfair, there are things he is responsible for that you as the hourly worker are not and that is why he gets more flexibility. If you are not paid hourly, ignore this. But understand that this will happen in most workplaces with both categories of people. I think he is personally a lousy manager, but him leaving in the day is not the issue to fight. – HLGEM Sep 17 '15 at 19:40
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What you've been told is incorrect, but the concept of a "hostile workplace" in the US is very narrowly defined. As Alison Green over at Ask a Manager explains (emphasis mine):

Hostile workplace” law isn’t at all what it sounds like: It’s not about your boss or your coworkers creating a hostile environment for you by being jerks. To be illegal, jerky conduct must be based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.

Moreover, to violate the law, the EEOC says that this conduct — which, again, must be based on race, religion, sex, or other protected characteristics — “must be severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” They also explain, “Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality.”

In other words, if your boss or your coworkers are just jerks but it’s not based on your race, religion, sex, or other protected characteristic, that’s not illegal. Unwise and unkind, but not illegal.

Source: hostile workplace: it’s not what you think by Alison Green, published 2015-01-31, retrieved 2015-09-17

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